Lessons Learned From the Youth Count! Project

Photograph of a young woman surveying another young woman.

A new report published by Urban Institute shares lessons learned from Youth Count!, a federal demonstration project meant to improve the way communities count the number of young people experiencing homelessness. Released in July, “Youth Count! Process Study” (PDF, 1837KB) shares challenges and best practices gleaned from nine pilot sites that conducted youth point-in-time counts last winter. The report shares participants’ efforts to identify the scope of the problem in their local communities, as well as strategies that can be adapted on a larger scale to produce more accurate, useful data.

For key takeaways, we recommend reading Chapter 10, which includes recommendations related to promising practices and areas for improvement. Recommendations include:

  1. Expanding coverage. Many of the participants' street counts occurred in “hot spot” areas where youth are already known to congregate. Randomly selecting blocks across the area may uncover additional youth wishing to fly under the radar.
  2. Engaging schools. Although some sites used schools to promote Youth Count! events, others made little effort to engage schools as partners. Prioritizing this relationship and cultivating it earlier in the process may help communities overcome pushback by schools administrators and reach an audience of homeless youth not already receiving services.
  3. Surveying everyone, not just youth who “look homeless.” Because homeless youth often look like their housed peers, it can be difficult to identify which young people should be included in the count. Talking to all young people they see on the street, or at least a representative sample, will help providers count beyond those youth they (or homeless youth participating in the survey process) recognize.
  4. Improving survey formatting and administration. Factors such as survey length and questions asked varied widely from site to site, and protocols for distributing the survey were often overlooked in practice. Pre-testing can help participating areas identify uniform best practices for creating and administering reliable, valid surveys.

Read the report (PDF, 1837KB), or watch a short video (also embedded below) explaining why it's important to count youth experiencing homelessness. You can also watch the Urban Institute's recent panel presentation highlighting findings from the report.

9-5 pm Eastern