Voices of Youth Count Offers Model for Youth-Informed and Youth-Led Homelessness Count

Between June and August, 22 rural and urban communities around the country will conduct a street count and survey of homeless and runaway youth as part of the Voices of Youth Count. Voices of Youth Count, led by Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago, aims to engage youth experience and voice in creating a more complete picture of the number of runaway and unaccompanied youth experiencing homelessness. The surveying explores causes of homelessness, services that youth are currently accessing and those services that may improve their life outcomes, as well as other issues facing young people who are experiencing homelessness in communities across the country. 

On June 30, I visited New Horizons, a non-profit based in downtown Seattle where many of the 21 teams set out for 4-7 hours to visit “hot spot” sites where youth experiencing homelessness are known to stay. One hundred sites across the county were identified through focus groups with youth, service providers, and mainstream system partners prior to the day of the count. The hot spots served as starting points for the count and the survey that took place that day. Each person who participated in the survey was given a gift card for their time.

Youth-Centered, Youth-Led Count

Chapin Hall takes a multi-step approach to the community engagement portion of the study. It includes a planning phase with focus groups, a provider survey, a youth-centered count, youth interviews, and an opportunity to debrief at the end. What I found most unique about Voices of Youth Count was that youth were at the center of the process. From planning to execution, the count was youth-informed and youth-led. On each of the 21 teams, two to four youth with lived experience of homelessness acted as field guides and worked alongside a team leader. 

When I asked Sean Walsh from All Home, the lead entity working on homelessness in the Seattle area, his impression of the impact of the count on Seattle-King County, he said: “For me, the count offers King County important new perspectives and data around the unique needs of homeless and unstably housed young people across the region. I think it's innovative that youth identified the hot spots and led the street count activities themselves.”

The combination of our existing national data and vital new information about runaway and homeless youth—including the count and survey data gathered from Voices of Youth Count—will help to inform our national policy and funding priorities. What’s more, this full complement of data will help programs make decisions that are the most impactful for youth as we all work together with urgency to create the coordinated community responses we need to prevent and end youth homelessness in 2020.

Learn more about and receive updates from Voices of Youth Count

Learn more about the Coordinated Community Response to Ending Youth Homelessness

Explore this Youth Homelessness Community Planning Toolkit from A Way Home Canada

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