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3.4 Effectively Collecting, Coordinating, and Using Youth Data
 

3.4 Effectively Collecting, Coordinating, and Using Youth Data

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3.4 Effectively Collecting, Coordinating, and Using Youth Data...

3.4 Effectively Collecting, Coordinating, and Using Youth Data

Speaker: Shahera Hyatt
Document: Toolkit for surveying youth

Data is essential to create effective evidence-based strategies to prevent and end homelessness. This workshop will examine methodologies of point-in-time counts and other surveys, discuss coordinating HMIS with mainstream data systems and explore ways to use these data to inform policy decisions and interventions.

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    3.4 Effectively Collecting, Coordinating, and Using Youth Data 3.4 Effectively Collecting, Coordinating, and Using Youth Data Document Transcript

    • A PRELIMINARY “TOOL KIT” FOR SURVEYING HOMELESS YOUTH By Ginny Puddefoot and Mark SilverbushBackgroundTwo years ago, the California Homeless Youth Project (HYP) convened a group ofinterested stakeholders to discuss the estimated number of homeless youth in California.The group quickly agreed there is no good statewide estimate of the number of youthliving on the streets, “couch surfing”, living in cars or in other unstable living conditions.This conclusion was explored more fully in the HYP report, Estimating California’sHomeless Youth Population, published in October 2010.The stakeholder group then turned to a discussion of whether an accurate estimate of thenumber of homeless youth is important, and if so, why? The policymakers amongst ussuggested that while having an accurate number is valuable for needs-based planning andadvocacy purposes, and is important for federal funding allocations, legislation andpolicy are driven more by interest in the issue than by the numbers. A real number isgood, but a good estimate is almost as good. In particular, being able to measure changeover time may be more important than an absolutely accurate number.The researchers amongst us pointed out that good numbers are important for establishingbenchmarks, for measuring progress in meeting program outcomes, and determining theeffectiveness of prevention efforts. Data may currently be more important at the locallevel than at the state level, but this could change down the road. For example, being ableto compare the size of the homeless youth population with the number of supports andservices available may lead to state policy change or program funding in the future.Advocates have also long claimed California does not receive its “fair share” of federalfunding allocations for addressing homelessness, but without good data there is no easyway to back up that claim.Finally, the group reviewed alternative methods for determining an accurate estimate ofthe number of homeless youth in the state. As discussed in Estimating California’sHomeless Youth Population, there are major methodological issues involved indetermining an accurate statewide count. For example, how we define “homeless” iscritical—is it one night on the street or is it an extended period of time without stablehousing? Equally challenging is how we define “youth”—as under 18 or up to the age of21 or 24—and as we know, various programs and funding sources define youthdifferently. In addition, developing a statewide sample survey would require more timeand resources than are reasonably available at this time of shortage and cutbacks.Still, the group agreed, there is a need for a more accurate estimate—and also, betterinformation about the characteristics of homeless youth in California. Without this, thereis no way of knowing whether current services are sufficient, whether they are addressingthe most pressing needs of this vulnerable population, and whether programs are 1
    • successful in reducing the number of youth who are living on the street. Better data,within reason, is essential.One of the recommendations included in Estimating California’s Homeless YouthPopulation is to piggyback on existing surveys, such as the California Health InformationSurvey (CHIS) and Continuum of Care (CoC) surveys. Interestingly, the federalDepartment of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) required CoCs to include ahomeless youth count for the first time in the January 2011 count. This requirement is animportant first step in developing better data across the state on homeless youth.Still, the question remains, how does a community actually do an effective homelessyouth count? The elements of doing a “good” homeless youth count are known althoughnot widely incorporated in existing surveys. The stakeholder group, several of whosemembers have direct experience conducting homeless youth counts in the state, decided itwould be useful to develop and present a set of guiding principles and best practices forCoCs and other surveyors to assist them in gathering better data on their homeless youthpopulations—recognizing that any survey will still underestimate the actual number ofyouth living on the street. However, if done using a consistent methodology across thestate, a count could provide a better estimate and description of California’s homelessyouth population than we have had to date. This, the group decided, would be a good firststep.Coincidentally, as we were reaching this conclusion, the National Alliance to EndHomelessness (NAEH) released “Counting Homeless Youth: A Proposed PlanningStrategy for Local Communities”. This report recommended specific steps communitiescould take to prepare for and implement an effective homeless youth count, many ofwhich are similar to the steps taken by our workgroup members who have been involvedin conducting homeless youth counts. Rather than repeat the NAEH recommendationshere, we hope this “Tool Kit” will pick up where that report leaves off and provide someadditional information that will be valuable for surveyors. The workgroup encouragesreaders to consult the NAEH report for additional information.Elements of the “Tool Kit” for Surveying Homeless Youth Definition of homeless youth There are almost as many definitions of homeless youth as there are programs and funding sources. The first step in conducting a homeless youth count is to define “homeless youth.” For purposes of consistency in integrating homeless youth into the CoC surveys, we recommend defining homeless youth as “unaccompanied youth ages 24 and under who are currently unsheltered or lack stable housing.” This definition is consistent with existing California state statute. 2
    • We further recommend defining a sub-category of homeless youth ages 17 and under, keeping consistent with the HUD definition of unaccompanied homeless youth and because funding, policy and program requirements differ for youth below the age of 18 and those 18 to 24. Questions for the homeless youth survey We recommend that CoCs develop a customized survey that asks both HUD required questions as well as questions specific to homeless youth. The questions in Table 1 (see following pages) are essential to gather basic demographic data and provide information critical for policy and funding purposes. We have drawn from the experiences of Los Angeles, Santa Clara, Sonoma, and other California counties, as well as from other states, to develop this short but powerful set of questions as an example and a starting point. While there may be additional questions that are important to add for local reasons, we encourage surveyors to be sure to include this set of questions so we can begin collecting data that can be compared across regions of the state. Principles and best practices for finding and surveying homeless youth Experience from Los Angeles, Santa Clara and Sonoma counties suggests that the methodology used to count homeless adults will not be effective in identifying and counting homeless youth. Instead, here are some known strategies for finding and surveying homeless youth:  Identify and recruit youth workers to conduct the surveys with adult support ~ youth who have experienced unstable housing and know the community are most effective in finding other homeless youth o Be sure to survey your homeless youth workers o Provide reimbursement for youth who participate as peer surveyors  Engage local youth service providers, schools, community organizations, clinics, and housing providers in the effort ~ the more local support you have, the more likely the count will be accurate and comprehensive o Mobilize support up-front ~ planning is key o Leverage existing CoC homeless count efforts o Invite key stakeholders to facilitate the process and create buy-in  Consult with service providers and homeless youth surveyors on the best time to conduct the count ~ homeless youth tend to be more visible after school (around 3pm), on weekends during the day, and late at night (between 10pm and midnight) o Do field tests to determine the best time(s) to send out survey teams o Discuss timing with local experts 3
    • Questions for the Homeless Youth SurveyBasic Demographic Information How old are you? o Between 12 and 17 years old o Between 18 and 24 years old How do you define your gender? o Male o Female o Transgender o Other How do you define your ethnicity? (Choose all that apply) o African American/Black o Caucasian o Hispanic/Latino o Asian/Pacific Islander o American Indian/Alaskan Native o Other Where are you from? (Open ended—code by City, County, State and Country) o Grew up in California o Grew up in another state o Grew up in another country o Other (grew up in multiple states or countries etc)Important Information for Policy and Funding Including this time, how many times have you been without stable housing in the past three years? o 1 time o 2 or 3 times o 4 or more times How long has your housing situation been unstable this time? o 7 days or less o 8 to 29 days o 1 to 3 months o 4 to 5 months o 6 to 11 months o 1 to 5 years o More than 5 years 4
    • Questions for the Homeless Youth Survey, continued How or why did that happen? o Ran away from home o Forced to leave home o Aged out of foster care o Released from juvenile facility o Lost apartment/housing o Lost job o Other Where did you sleep last night? o On the street o A vehicle o Makeshift shelter/encampment dwelling o Friend’s house o Emergency shelter o Hotel/motel o Transitional housing o Apartment o Abandoned building o Other Where do you usually sleep? o On the street o A vehicle o Makeshift shelter/encampment dwelling o Friend’s house o Emergency shelter o Hotel/motel o Transitional housing o Apartment o Abandoned building o Other Are you trying to change your housing situation? o Yes o No If so, what challenges do you face in trying to change your housing situation? o No money for rent/deposit o No job o No car o No one to turn to for help o Other 5
    • Questions for the Homeless Youth Survey, continued Do you currently have a job? o Yes o No Are you currently attending school? o Yes o No What is the last grade level you completed? o 6th grade or lower o Between 7th grade and 9th grade o Between 10th grade and 12th grade o Some college o College graduate What kinds of support or services have you received? o Emergency shelter o Transitional housing o Housing location assistance or housing placement assistance o Food stamps/EBT card o SSDI (Social Security Disability benefits) o Medi-Cal o Access center/drop-in center services o Mental health counseling o Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA) o Alcohol/drug counseling o Health care o School or after-school center services o Job or employment services o Street outreach o Other What kind of support or services would help you the most? o Same choices as above 6
    •  Principles and best practices for finding and surveying homeless youth (continued)  Build in measures to reduce/eliminate duplication in counting ~ these will need to balance the need to identify individuals with the need to maintain privacy for those being counted  Establish role clarity for all partners in the survey ~ CoC members, youth service providers, and youth can be placed in teams to maximize their skills and knowledge of the area o Van driver o Van team leader o Team supervisor o Youth surveyors  Train teams and review procedures to ensure consistency across teams o Teams divide up the youth “hot spots”—main streets, parks, arcades, internet cafes, schools, libraries, metro stations o Each team is given a map of the area they will survey and materials to tally o Teams are dropped off near youth “hot spots” o Teams walk and conduct surveys o Conduct a second round if there is time o Teams check in with Van Team Leader when they have covered the entire area to determine time and location of pick-up  Provide compensation to youth who are surveyed (in the form of gift cards for grocery stores, bus passes, or hygiene kits) ~ this acknowledges the gift of the youth’s time in being surveyed o Develop resource/referral information with local contacts for supports and services for homeless youth o Distribute resource/referral information to youth surveyors to hand out  Review and customize materials to fit your youth count effort ~ one size does not fit all 7
    • How to Count:  Be safe ~ stay with your partner(s)  Stay in communication with your team leader  Use your best judgment about who is homeless and who is under age 25  Keep in mind: Zero is a valid number  For each homeless youth you see, mark on tally sheet  Approach each youth and ask if they are willing to answer questions  If yes, fill out the questionnaire and give youth their compensation  If available, give resource/referral materials to homeless youth who requests assistance  Keep outside conversations to a minimum  Manage your time ~ if you need help covering your area or need more time, call your team leader  Avoid any situation that makes you uncomfortable ~ don’t take risks  Call your team leader if you have any problems, or call 911 in the case of an emergencyAuthors’ Note:This is a work in progress and should be considered a draft. If you are interested incontributing to the development of a “Toolkit” for Surveying Homeless Youth, pleasecontact the following:  Ginny Puddefoot, CA Homeless Youth Project, gpuddefoot@library.ca.gov  Mark Silverbush, LA Homeless Services Authority, msilverbush@lahsa.org 8