Counting and Surveying Homeless Youth


Solutions Brief | January 26, 2012

Files: PDF | 117 KB | 6 pages

Having an accurate count of homeless youth helps a community to understand the scope of the problem and to design solutions. The District of Columbia Alliance of Youth Advocates (DCAYA) is leading the effort to deepen understanding about the prevalence and needs of homeless youth in Washington, DC. In partnership with the District of Columbia Interagency Council on Homelessness (DCICH), the Trachtenberg School of Public Policy at George Washington University (GWU), public and nonprofit agencies, and a host of volunteers, DCAYA conducted a count and survey of homeless youth over a two-week period in multiple locations from nearly 500 homeless and at-risk youth. The findings listed in DCAYA’s final report reflect the responses of 330 youth who met the criteria for completing the survey. This data will be used to educate the public and key stakeholders about youth homelessness and to shape both policy and program interventions in the District of Columbia.

DCAYA is the citywide coalition that works to ensure policies, programs and practices within the District of Columbia are in place to help youth transition into adulthood. The vision of DCAYA is a community where no youth is considered at-risk and where all youth are respected as valued members of society.

DCAYA was formed in 2004 by agencies serving youth to address the lack of developmental opportunities and safe spaces for young people when they were out of school in Washington, D.C. Approximately 20 community organizations, along with youth and concerned residents, joined together to form DCAYA to advocate for youth. Today DCAYA is a nonprofit membership organization with over 100 members.

Why the Study of Homeless and Unstably Housed Youth?
There is no accurate picture of the size and specific characteristic and needs of homeless youth in Washington, DC (nor across much of the U.S.). As a result, there are gaps in knowledge about the local causal factors leading to homelessness for youth, the services youth access and find useful, and the service gaps in the community. This gap in knowledge inhibits the development of policies and programs that can be implemented to effectively prevent and end homelessness for youth.

Increased information will allow the District of Columbia, and other local communities that conduct youth specific counts and surveys to more accurately assess the scale of the problem and allow improved targeting of services and interventions. Targeted youth-specific counts and surveys provide an opportunity for communities to improve street outreach efforts to get youth to safe places; to know how to better reunify youth with their families when they come to a drop-in center in need of help because they have run away from home; and to better prepare youth living in transitional living programs for self-sufficiency by accessing education, employment, and stable housing. Moreover, homeless youth are at increased risk of commercial sexual exploitation, better information will also help to address this problem.

Developing Key Partnerships
DCAYA initially reached out to DCICH to propose a two-week study to count homeless youth in Washington, DC. The partnership eventually expanded to include 60 local agencies, community centers, schools, shelters and drop-in centers. Each of the partnering agencies also agreed to serve as data collection points. McKinney-Vento school liaisons were also made aware of the survey and helped to identify youth to participate in the study.

DCAYA made a concerted effort to attract a research partner to help with the development of the survey instrument, data collection, and analysis. DCAYA staff developed an abstract proposal and contacted faculty in the city’s universities who might be interested in supporting the study which proved useful in building support. Dr. Young of the Trachtenberg School agreed to provide support, and connected DCAYA to two university professors overseeing the final capstone projects of graduate students at Trachtenberg. He facilitated a partnership between a group of interested students and DCAYA.

The graduate students helped inform the design of the survey instrument, completed data input, and conducted initial data analysis. The study design and instruments were submitted and approved by the University’s Institutional Review Board (IRB) process. The IRB process ensures that the research method is sound, that the study will protect the rights of the individuals being surveyed and that their privacy will be honored. The partnership with the University resulted in significant cost savings and support from graduate students which allowed for a more comprehensive study than would otherwise have been possible with the available resources.

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