Accurately reporting Philadelphia’s homeless youth requires community effort

Accurately reporting Philadelphia’s homeless youth requires community effort

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Valley Youth House is organizing the annual Philadelphia Youth Count in conjunction with the Office of Homeless Services. On Thursday, Jan. 23, Valley Youth House volunteers will work on the street to count homeless youth and survey them about their housing situation. This will occur during two shifts, from 5 a.m. to 10 a.m., and again from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. 

Alyssa Weinfurtner, street outreach supervisor for Valley Youth House, explained that young people may experience homelessness differently than adults.   

“The idea was to catch folks early in the morning who may be leaving where they’re staying, as well as to catch folks to or from work or school,” she said. “Kind of recognizing that youth are often very resourceful and their homelessness is also often very hidden.”

The Youth Count grew out of the Point in Time Count, a collaboration between Project Home and the Office of Homeless Services to obtain a count of people experiencing homelessness in general. Both counts are required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Development. When it became apparent that the Point in Time Count was not adequately accounting for youth homelessness, the Youth Count was created. 

The stats that Valley Youth House receives from its research operations are reported to HUD, which facilitates support for the proper funds to counteract youth homelessness, and singles out needs for particular populations, like LGBTQ+ youth. 

“One of the things, regardless of sample size, that we’ve seen over the year, is that LGBTQ youth along with youth of color, youth with a history of systems involvement — all of those youth are experiencing homelessness at a higher rate than they are represented in the population,” Weinfurtner said.

The organization True Colors United reported that in 2019, an estimated 20 to 40 percent of youth experiencing homelessness in the U.S. are LGBTQ, while just 7 to 10 percent of young people identify as a member of that community. 

According to a 2018 national study conducted by Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago, LGBTQ-identified young adults between the ages of 18 to 25 were twice as likely to experience homelessness than their straight, cisgender peers, over a 12-month period. The study also found that Black LGBTQ youth, especially Black boys and men, experienced the highest rates of homelessness. Almost 25 percent of Black LGBTQ men between ages 18 and 25 experienced “explicit” homelessness.   

Cameron McConkey works for Y-HEP as a Stoneleigh Emerging Leader Fellow and worked closely with Valley Youth House in the past. 

“It’s not surprising when you think about how and why people fall into housing insecurities,” McConkey said. “So much of that is related to issues with the families of origin, and there being issues of running away or being kicked out of your house.”

On Thursday, four Philadelphia locations known as Come and Be Counted sites will open their doors to homeless youth to complete the survey if need be and also provide amenities such as a gift card and food in some cases. 

Homeless youth can visit these sites at Philadelphia FIGHT’s Y-HEP Adolescent and Young Adult Health Center from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., the Achieving Independence Center from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m., the Attic Youth Center from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. and Community College of Philadelphia from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Philadelphia FIGHT will have a table outside of its Y-HEP and pediatric health centers at 1207 Chestnut Street and will provide coats, shoes and other clothing regardless of homeless status, as well as snacks and hygiene kits. Y-HEP staff will also make available health education materials and opportunities to talk to professionals about HIV prevention services. Additionally, the health center’s usual walk-in hours for medical and behavioral health needs will be available from 1:30 to 4 p.m.

“When young people don’t have secure, stable housing it’s so hard to prioritize healthcare, McConkey said. “Most of the healthcare we’re talking about with young people is very preventative, it’s talking about HIV prevention, pregnancy prevention, vaccines and ways to maintain your health.”

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