King County makes headway in counting homeless youth

Feb 26, 2013

The latest census of homeless youth in King County tallied more people than ever before, but community groups say that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The reason a higher number could actually be good news is that it probably means we’re getting better at counting.

The United Way’s Vince Matulionis said homeless youth typically don’t want to be found, making it exceedingly difficult to get an accurate count. So the coalition behind the “Count Us In” survey, which targets just homeless youth, is trying to get creative.

“You know we have evening pizza parties where young people come in, and we’ll use food and offer of safe shelter as a way to count folks. We have case managers actually calling folks so that the interaction is over the phone, and they’re able to conduct a survey that way,” Matulionis said.

The “Count Us In” survey found 776 children and young adults on the streets or in unstable housing, about a hundred more than last year’s. The latest comprehensive one-night count, by contrast, tallied just 19 minors.

Leaders in a young field

The new results were released at a national conference on ending youth homelessness, taking place in Seattle. Matulionis said King County is a leader in the tricky science of counting homeless young people.

“It’s a relatively young field, and the attention that we’re paying to the issue here is cutting edge anywhere in the country,” he said.

Nearly half the people counted aren’t sleeping outside or in shelters, but rather on friends or relatives’ couches and floors. Matulionis said helping that population is crucial to preventing more young people from becoming chronically homeless.