Outreach workers spent six days in January counting the number of 12-to-24 year olds in Dallas County who didn’t have a stable place to live. They ultimately found 179 people in the county’s first-ever homeless youth survey.
Keri Stitt is the chief partner relations officer at Promise House, a nonprofit that helps at-risk youth. Its outreach teams were at the helm of the youth count. Stitt said it’s hard to find young people experiencing homelessness because they don’t always look homeless — and they don’t always know they are homeless.
“A lot of times you’re going to see the adult homeless on the streets, maybe living in encampments. And our kids still have friends who may have homes, so they’ll double up with them or they may be living with another family member," Stitt said. "So you don’t see them on the streets, but that’s housing instability."
Stitt said the survey found clear disparities. Of the young people interviewed, about 40 percent were between 15 and 20 years old. More than half were female, and nearly 60 percent were African-American. A quarter of those living on the streets identified as part of the LGBT community, and a significant number of homeless youth had also come into contact with the juvenile justice system.
Stitt said the numbers were shocking, especially compared to the findings from the adult homeless point-in-time count, which also happened in January.
“It mirrors a lot of the same stuff that we see," she said. "So if we're not addressing youth homelessness, then we’re not also addressing adult homelessness. And we’re not addressing homelessness at all because these kids then become part of the adult homeless population.”
That's why policy solutions are a critical part of the youth count called “See Us Now.” Homeless youth said they need everyday items like clothing, bus passes, food and hygiene supplies, and in order to find housing and get jobs, they also need state IDs, their birth certificates and social security cards. Advocates like Josh Cogan of Promise House say kids don't think to grab important documents like those when they're kicked out of the house.
Those taking part in the "See Us Now" survey said their highest priority, though, is affordable housing, and then a higher minimum wage. Since many were kicked out by their parents and guardians, homeless youth said they want them to be held accountable for negligence and abandonment. They also want more teen shelters where they can feel safe.
"Right now, there's really no place for them to go to feel safe," said Dallas City Council member Adam Medrano. "They don't feel safe at The Bridge; they don't feel safe at other shelters."
Medrano said he's pushing for more spaces dedicated to young people experiencing homelessness — especially those who identify as LGBTQ — with money from a city bond that was approved last fall.
"The money is there. There's $20 million that the City of Dallas residents passed for homelessness,” he said. “So now we just need the city to allocate about $4 million to building a shelter for our LGBTQ homeless, a place where they can be safe and have resources to get them back on their feet and out of the homeless cycle.
“And that’s why I’m committed to making sure the City of Dallas [puts] our money where our mouth is. We want to do this,” Medrano said.
There are a lot of things in the survey that homeless youth said they need in order to move out of homelessness. But there are also a few things they said they already have: ambition, resilience, persistence and a belief in themselves.
Note: The full survey will be posted here when available.