By: Amanda Miller
Youth experiencing homelessness are frequently described as hidden or invisible. The thought is that they are challenging to identify as they do not tend to make themselves known by seeking out assistance from service providers and systems.
However, it has become increasingly apparent over the past decade as we have come to better understand youth homelessness that this is largely due to inadvertent blindness of our public serving systems. We simply have not been asking the right questions within our systems to allow youth to share their housing needs. Youth homelessness should be visible, but it requires the commitment of and collaboration among all public serving systems to make it so.
Youth experiencing homelessness come into contact with all the public systems serving children, youth and families. This has been made clear in Maryland, where most of the continuums of care (CoCs) across the state come together as part of a state-funded project, Youth REACH MD, to conduct a survey and census of unaccompanied youth experiencing homelessness. That helps communities and policymakers better understand their experiences so they can better tackle the issue of youth homelessness in Maryland.
Each CoC brings local partners together with youth to develop and implement an outreach and surveying strategy to reach as many youth as possible within the community who are under the age of 25, not in the physical care or custody of a parent or legal guardian, and lacking a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence. Every year the Youth REACH Youth Count has been conducted, youth experiencing homelessness have reported high levels of system involvement, particularly within the juvenile and adult justice systems.
In 2018, 38% reported being currently enrolled in school (over half of them were enrolled in high school), 27% reported having stayed in a shelter or motel in the last two months, 20% reported having spent time in foster care, 28% reported having spent at least one night in juvenile detention and 38% reported having spent at least one night in jail.