SAY Leads Sonoma County’s Point in Time Homeless Youth Count
On Friday, February 23 Sonoma County conducted its annual Point in Time Homeless Count for both adult and youth populations currently experiencing homelessness in our community. The adult count took place during the early morning (6am-10am) and the youth count occurred in the late afternoon (3pm-7pm).
Every two years, communities across the country conduct comprehensive counts of the local population experiencing homelessness. The Count is required by the Department of Housing and Urban Development and helps provide a “snapshot” of what homelessness looks like in our communities across the country, and informs program, policy, and funding decision. The Count has two primary components: a point in time count of unsheltered homeless individuals and families (those sleeping outdoors, on the street, in parks, or vehicles, etc.) and a point in time count of homeless individuals and families residing in temporary shelter, such as emergency shelters and transitional housing. The Point in Time Count is the only source of nationwide data on sheltered and unsheltered homelessness.
In an effort to better track these data points, Sonoma County opted to conduct an annual unsheltered count beginning in 2015. For the last decade, Social Advocates for Youth has spearheaded Sonoma County’s specialized count of unaccompanied children and transition age-youth under the age of 25 years. Trained youth guides who currently or recently experienced homelessness partner with SAY staff and community volunteers to conduct the youth point in time count in specific areas where homeless youth are known to congregate.
This year, 22 youth with lived experience of homelessness helped guide our staff and adult volunteers. These young people are our best source of information when conducting the point in time count. They are immensely knowledgeable and strategic in their efforts to guide us through encampments and areas where they’ve seen other youth. During the four-hour count, youth guides often share their own personal stories of homelessness. Some shared their concerns with how they are perceived in the community: “people think we’re the bad guys, but all we’re trying to do is survive and not get hurt,” said Matthew, one of the youth guides. Others expressed how they have to be strategic in order to stay safe on the streets. “I lived in a dumpster for a while,” shared one young woman. “That was a luxury because you could close the lid and make a safe shelter for yourself. No one really bothers the dumpsters during the night, so it’s safer than sleeping on the street.”
Many of the youth guides are currently enrolled in an SAY program and some we have engaged through our Street Outreach services. Every week, the SAY Street Outreach team goes out into our community and engaging with young people currently experiencing homelessness and helps connect them with services. This year-round outreach effort helps inform our annual point in time count and ensures we are reaching young people when and where they need us most. Last year, SAY received an invaluable donation of two vans from local material producer, Soiland Company These vans are instrumental in our outreach efforts and have allowed us to reach young people more frequently throughout Sonoma County.
Last year, Sonoma County reported 532 homeless young people under the age of 25; 100% of youth under 18 and 91% of youth ages 18-25 were unsheltered. Final results of the 2018 count are expected in June.
Sonoma County worked in conjunction with Applied Survey Research (ASR) to conduct the 2018 Sonoma Homeless Point-in-Time Count and Survey. ASR has worked with Sonoma County on their Point-in-Time Counts since 2009, and is a social research firm with extensive experience in homeless enumeration and needs assessment.