Counting and Surveying Homeless Youth: Recommendations from YouthCount 2.0!, a Community-Academic Partnershipedit
Communities across the United States are increasing efforts to find and count homeless youth. This paper presents findings and lessons learned from a community/academic partnership to count homeless youth and conduct an in depth research survey focused on the health needs of this population. Over a 4 week recruitment period, 632 youth were counted and 420 surveyed. Methodological successes included an extended counting period, broader inclusion criteria to capture those in unstable housing, use of student volunteers in health training programs, recruiting from magnet events for high risk youth, and partnering with community agencies to disseminate findings. Strategies that did not facilitate recruitment included respondent driven sampling, street canvassing beyond known hotspots, and having community agencies lead data collection. Surveying was successful in gathering data on reasons for homelessness, history in public systems of care, mental health history and needs, sexual risk behaviors, health status, and substance use. Youth were successfully surveyed across housing types including shelters or transitional housing (n = 205), those in unstable housing such as doubled up with friends or acquaintances (n = 75), and those who were literally on the streets or living in a place not meant for human habitation (n = 140). Most youth completed the self-report survey and provided detailed information about risk behaviors. Recommendations to combine research data collection with counting are presented.