A barrier to providing services for homeless youth is the lack of accurate data on the number of young people ages 16-24 who do not have stable housing. Homeless youth are difficult to count for several reasons. First, youth who are homeless are not part of a service delivery system, such as the foster care system, and they may not engage with social service providers or seek services from a shelter. Also, their living situations may change frequently from living at home, to staying with a friend or family member, to living on the street, making them difficult to track and their situation difficult to capture. Data collection often depends on self-reports from youth who are attending school, and they may hesitate to disclose that they are homeless.
The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requires communities throughout the United States to complete an annual Point-In-Time (PIT) homeless count in order to be eligible for federal funding for affordable housing. The PIT count is a count of sheltered and unsheltered homeless persons on a single night in January. Although HUD has begun working with communities to do youth PIT counts, the PIT has historically focused on adult homeless populations and has not provided an accurate count of homeless youth.
TNOYS, along with National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth and the Texas Homeless Education Office, is seeking to add two questions to the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which is distributed by the Texas Department of State Health Services to selected high schools in Texas every other year. The questions will ask survey participants where they typically sleep at night and if they have lived away from parents or guardians in the past 30 days. The questions would be included in the 2015 survey and the data would be available by the spring of 2016. The data gathered from these questions will provide insight into the scope of youth homelessness in Texas and will allow both public and private agencies to respond and develop appropriate services for homeless youth.