Winter 2010 Research Newsletter



Newsletters | February 25, 2010

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Quarterly Research Newsletter
Focus On Homeless Youth
Winter 2010
In This Issue:
Multi-year Counts Map
Q&A with Paul Toro
Homelessness Pulse Report
By The Numbers 
Number of print and broadcast news stories about youth homelessness since January 1, 2010, as tracked by the Alliance's Communications and Media Relations Specialist.
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The Alliance's Homelessness Research Institute (HRI) is pleased to send the Winter 2010 edition of the Quarterly Research Newsletter. This issue focuses on homelessness among unaccompanied youth and features a fascinating Expert Q&A with Paul Toro, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology at Wayne State University and member of the Alliance's Research Council, who responds to questions about youth homelessness and about high overall homeless rates in Detroit.

You will also find an update on the recent findings of HUD's "Homelessness Pulse Project" in Policy-Driven Research and the regular research newsletter features: Interactive Map and By The Numbers
Only those who have signed up to receive the Quarterly Research Newsletter are receiving this mailing. If this was forwarded to you or if you are reading this on our website and want to receive the newsletter by e-mail, click here to add "Research Newsletter - Quarterly" as one of your subscriptions.
Feature: Local Counts of Homeless Youth
At the most recent meeting of the Alliance's Research Council, there was a lively discussion about how much there is still to learn about youth homelessness. And while there is much to learn about the demographic characteristics of unaccompanied youth and the interventions that best address their needs, even basic questions about the size of the population remain unanswered. Local communities are making efforts to fill in the knowledge gap with specialized research and data collection efforts. 
Homeless Youth Counts
Though each Continuum of Care (CoC) is asked to report counts of unaccompanied youth, veterans, and other subpopulations as a part of its bi-annual count, only the count of the chronically homeless subpopulation is required. As a result, CoC counts cannot be consistently relied on to reflect the size of the homeless youth population. To deal with this, some communities conducted specialized counts of their homeless youth populations in 2009.

The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority partnered with eight  youth providers to conduct a daytime street count designed to identify and count youth who would likely be missed by the standard enumeration process. The count captured 638 unaccompanied youth under 18. Click here to download the full report (pdf).

The City of San Jose, in addition to performing an afternoon street youth count, conducted an in-depth, 28-question survey of 114 youth between the ages of 13-22 years. The survey found, among other things, that a dispute with family or friends was the most common reason for youth homelessness; job loss was most common reason among San Jose adults. Click here to download the full report (pdf).

Youth Outcomes
As a part of an increased investment of State money into runaway and homeless youth programs, Portland State University conducted an evaluation of the short-term outcomes of runaway and homeless youth programs in eight Oregon counties. In an interview with the Alliance, Donald Schweitzer, Assistant Professor of Social Work at Pacific University Oregon and member of the research team, said, "The main finding of our research was that a high percentage of youth in the programs returned home to family and community." The report includes a return-on-investment analysis that concludes that every dollar invested in runaway and homeless youth programs provides over four dollars in avoided education, employment, criminal justice, and substance abuse costs. Click here
to download the full report (pdf).
Interactive Map: Multi-Year Counts Map
Multi-Year Counts MapThis Interactive Map presents the results of all point-in-time counts that have been conducted by local communities across the country from 2005 to 2008 and reported to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Click here to view the Interactive Map.
Expert Q&A with Paul Toro, PhD
Paul Toro Paul A. Toro, Ph.D., is Professor of Psychology at Wayne State University in Detroit. He has 25 years of experience conducting research on homelessness, including studies on homeless families and youth.  He has been a member of the Alliance's Research Council since its inception and joined us for an expert Q&A on homelessness among youth and overall homelessness in Detroit and the state of Michigan. Click here to see a list of research projects and publications of his research group.
Alliance: National estimates of the number of unaccompanied homeless youth range from tens of thousands to a few million. How many homeless youth do you think there are in the US (either at a point-in-time or over the course of the year)?

Toro: Indeed, national estimates on the prevalence of all subgroups of homeless people vary widely, but this seems particularly true in the case of homeless youth. Estimates vary depending on the source and methods used to obtain the estimates. They also vary based on the time frame considered. When defining "homeless youth" we also need to carefully decide on the age range (the broadest range would be 12-25 years), whether the youth are "unaccompanied" (by a guardian) or in a "homeless family," and whether "couch surfers" and others who may not be "literally homeless" are considered.
Some recent studies have estimated an annual prevalence of 1.6-1.7 million homeless youth in the US. One of these studies analyzed data collected from a representative US household sample of nearly 6,500 youth, ages 12 to 17, and found that approximately 7.6 percent had been homeless for at least one night during the past 12 months (Ringwalt et al., 1998). This would translate into approximately 1.6 million homeless youth each year. Another study combined data from three different surveys and estimated that approximately 1.7 million youth experienced a runaway or throwaway episode in 1999 (Hammer, Finkelhor, & Sedlack, 2002). Looking over a multi-year time period, the Ringwalt et al. study estimated that a full 15 percent of youth will become homeless at least once before age 18.

Alliance: You've studied youth aging out of the foster care system. What are the most promising interventions for preventing those youth from ending up homeless?
Toro: We now have a handful of studies that have tracked youth "aging out" of the foster care system. They all show a similarly disturbing picture of these youth, most of whom were abused by their parents and removed to foster care by the state. These youth struggle to live independently with the very limited resources available to them. In our study of youth in the Detroit area, fully 50 percent experienced homelessness for at least one night during the 3-6 year follow-up period. Most of the homeless episodes were in the form of "couch surfing" or other precarious housing situations (33 percent), rather than "literal homelessness" (17 percent). In addition to homelessness, these youth also show poor outcomes in many other areas. For example, they show elevations in symptoms of mental illness and very poor levels of employment and educational attainment.

Unfortunately, at this point, I'm not aware of any examples of carefully evaluated interventions for such youth "aging out" of foster care. However, based on the findings of the existing follow-up studies and some interventions that have been applied to other populations (such as delinquent youth), we have some ideas about what might work to prevent their subsequent homelessness, as well as the other poor outcomes that have been documented. Over the past few years, my research group has begun to design a comprehensive intervention model that would work intensively with the youth before, during, and years after "aging out" to support them through the transition into adulthood that is "forced" on them by the foster care system.

Alliance: Michigan and Detroit have been hit particularly hard by the recession. Can you speak to the impacts of the current economy on homelessness and the homelessness assistance system?

Toro: Michigan has the highest rate of unemployment of any state in the nation (15 percent) and one of the highest foreclosure rates. Among the 50 largest cities in the US, the City of Detroit also has the highest unemployment rate in the nation. So, yes, Michigan and Detroit have been hit very hard by the recession. While I have no firm scientific data that homelessness is on the rise in both the state and the city, I have many reports from service providers that it is. At the same time, donations to service providers have been lower than usual, even during the holiday period when many service providers count on public sympathy for the poor and homeless to support their activities.

As more and more people become homeless, we expect the general profile of the homeless population to change. In a recently published study that used careful sampling methods to document the characteristics of Detroit's homeless population in 1992-93 (after the recessionary 1980s) and again in 2001-02 (after the economic boom of the mid-1990s), our team (Israel et al., 2009) found that the earlier sample was younger, healthier, more socially connected, and otherwise more employable. Now that the current recession has been in place in Detroit for several years, we expect to find a similar profile change, from the more "chronic" homeless population seen in the early 2000s to the more "employable" profile that will emerge after more "average folks" have entered the ranks of the homeless.

References cited in this interview:

Hammer, H., Finkelhor, D. & Sedlak, A. (2002). Runaway/Thrownaway children: National estimates and characteristics. National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway, and Thrownaway Children (NISMART), October, 2002. Washington, DC: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

Israel, N., Toro, P. A., & Ouellette, N.  (2009, in press).  Changes in the composition of the homeless population: 1992 to 2002.  American Journal of Community Psychology.

Ringwalt, C. L., Greene, J. M., Robertson, M., & McPheeters, M. (1998). The prevalence of homelessness among adolescents in the United States. American Journal of Public Health, 88(9), 1325-1329.

Policy-Driven Research: The Homelessness Pulse Report
The recent economic crisis has led researchers and policymakers alike to ask the question: How has the recession affected homelessness?  In response, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has launched the Homelessness Pulse Project.  This project is intended to provide a better understanding of the effects of the current economic crisis on the number of people experiencing homelessness.  HUD partnered with nine communities across the country, selected to be nationally representative.  Each of the communities reported data on the number of people served in their emergency shelters and transitional housing programs for each quarter beginning in January of 2009.  However, two communities did not report data in the third quarter, so this brief review of the report addresses only those seven that reported data in all quarters. 
Total Homelessness
Between the first (January through March 2009) and second (April through June 2009) quarters of 2009, the total number of people served by homeless residential programs dropped slightly from 57,668 to 57,213, a decrease of less than one percent.  However, in the third quarter (July through September 2009), the number of sheltered homeless people increased by roughly 8 percent over the second quarter.  Increases occurred in all but one community. 

Sheltered Persons in Families with Children
Data on the number of families with children are also reported in the Pulse report. Persons in families with children comprise over 60 percent of the clients served by residential programs in each quarter.  Between the first and second quarter the number of people in families increased by less than one percent, from 34,958 to 35,074. The number of families served in the third quarter increased by more than 10 percent over previous quarters.  Increases between the second and third quarter occurred in four of the seven communities.

New Sheltered Persons
In the second quarter, communities began reporting data on the number of new clients served - those who had not received residential services in the past 15 months.  Collectively, in the second quarter there were 27,632 new clients served in emergency shelters and transitional housing programs. Approximately 49 percent of new clients between April and June were persons in families with children.  In the third quarter, the number of new clients rose to 32,437, a 26 percent increase over the number of new clients served in the second quarter.  The percent of those who are people in families also increased from 49 percent to 55 percent of new clients.  Increases occurred in all seven communities, and were much larger for persons in families (38 percent) than for individuals (12 percent).

Click here to download the full report (pdf).