701. You may have heard us talking about the 701 homeless youth who are on the streets in Sonoma County before. Have you ever wondered how we get to that number? Or wondered where those youth are? At SAY it’s vital to know how many youth are living out on the streets, and to know what help they need. So every two years, we help lead a Point In Time Homeless Youth Count.
During the count volunteers and SAY staff are paired with homeless young people hired to act as guides to help locate other youth. Organizer and Street Outreach Program Coordinator Lisa Fatu gives each team an area of the county to scout and the teams drive or walk around their areas keeping a tally of the number of homeless youth they see in each location.
On January 25, 2013 over a dozen volunteers and homeless youth guides took part in this year’s Homeless Youth Count. During the initial visual count, our teams try not to disturb teens who are sleeping in tents or cars, and this initial visual count is followed by detailed surveys over the following weeks. The surveys give us vital information about why youth have run away or become homeless, and offer insights into what services and support they need.
In 2011, the homeless youth we surveyed said that the number one thing they need, before a house, or food, is a job. They recognized that with a job, they can find a place to live, and can afford to buy food, which is why SAY has expanded our youth employment programs over the past two years to offer more employment help to more youth. Last year, we hired over 170 youth to work with us through the Sonoma County Youth Ecology Corps, and we worked with over 650 youth to offer help with employment and education.
The numbers from the Homeless Youth Count are still being finalized. We are hopeful that the number has decreased with the improved economy, but regardless of the final count, we know that we need to be ready to offer support, hope and opportunities to the young people who are out there sleeping under bridges, in fields, and in abandoned buildings tonight.
Check out photos from the Homeless Youth Count below: