Rhode Island is currently conducting its first point-in-time count of youth and young adults experiencing homelessness since 2018, according to a press release from the Rhode Island Coalition to End Homelessness and the Rhode Island Continuum of Care’s Youth Action Board.
The Youth Point in Time Count is a 24-question survey that asks youth and young adults — defined as persons under the age of 25 — experiencing homelessness where they slept on the night of April 19 as well as questions about demographics, life experiences and barriers to services, according to Tatiana Reis, the Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program systems lead at the Rhode Island Coalition to End Homelessness.
The Youth Action Board, which is made up of “youth ages 13-24 with lived experience of homelessness or housing instability” and the Coalition, which works to advance solutions to “prevent and end homelessness,” are organizing the count.
The count began with a survey beginning the night of April 19 that will continue through May 20 at “local organizations, events and hot spots identified by youth experiencing homelessness,” according to the release.
“Youth and young adults, especially when it comes to youth who are in schools, are often extremely undercounted,” Reis said. “It’s important when it comes to youth homelessness to have information that is up-to-date because it’s consistently and constantly changing.”
This count uses a broader definition of homelessness than the state’s federally mandated Point-in-Time count, which takes place on a single night in January, according to Juan Espinoza, communications department manager for the Coalition. The definition for the youth survey includes those who are couch surfing or “doubling up” in hotel rooms, Reis explained.
Conducted in 2018, the last statewide youth count found that 173 Rhode Islanders between the ages of 14 and 24 were experiencing housing instability, with 94 of those individuals found in addition to those already in the state’s Homeless Management Information System, which collects various forms of data regarding people currently experiencing homelessness or people at risk of experiencing homelessness.
Reis said that the organizations learned about conducting a youth count from Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago, a policy research center focused on children, youth and families, which has a toolkit on how to conduct a youth count. Other states and cities, including Philadelphia and Massachusetts, have also conducted youth surveys in recent years.
The first weeks of the count will involve reaching out to service providers “who already have identified youth and (young) adults,” Reis said. From May 10-17, a period of street outreach will also take place, she added.
Youth Action Board Co-Coordinator Adriel Falowo said in the press release that street outreach makes the count important.
“We can reach youth and young adults who don’t have access to social media or are in locations where they are usually hard to reach,” Falowo added. “Youth are smart and savvy, they know how to hide in plain sight to protect themselves.”
Kimya Dastoori, special projects coordinator at Youth In Action, a group that supports and organizes young people in Providence, said that the Youth Action Board recently became fully staffed, which may be why the count is restarting this year.
“We finally were able to be prepared in terms of conducting youth work authentically and collaboratively within the coalition to launch the Youth PIT again this year,” Reis said. She noted that the COVID-19 pandemic had stopped a count just before it was set to begin in 2020 as well.
The youth count “brings together a community of young folk to help with tasks and collecting data. These opportunities are typically not given to people like us,” Benji Chaplin, YAB co-coordinator, wrote in a statement shared with The Herald. “I enjoyed being able to be a part of that process and creating the survey, it felt like a big accomplishment to be able to finally see it being shared around."
Reis said she expected that “priority populations” — such as young people of color, young people who identify as LGBTQ+, disabled young people, young people who have lived experience with the criminal justice or foster care systems and young people who are parenting or responsible for a child — will likely appear in the count disproportionately compared to other groups.
Over half of those surveyed in the 2018 count were young people of color and nearly a quarter of participants identified as LGBTQ+. Both of those percentages outpaced the Rhode Island demographics for their age group at the time — roughly 20% and 7%, respectively.
“I just want general data to bring back to the youth to help us make those informed decisions,” Dastoori said.
According to Reis, data from the count will be used to create a community report and eventually serve as the basis for community listening sessions. The new information will also be used to reach out to politicians and advocate for funding, she said.
Reis added that questions in the survey about the services youth and young adults are using and barriers to the services they need can help guide more specific requests for funding.
This year, incentives for filling out the survey — such as $15 gift cards and supplies like sleeping bags, socks and food — will be provided while supplies last, Reis said. There is also an online version of the survey, which does not exist during the January count, though it has faced some technical difficulties early on, according to Espinoza. Those who wish to fill out the form can contact Reis directly in order to do so for now, Reis said.
Jacob Smollen is a Metro editor covering city and state politics and co-editor of the Bruno Brief. He is a junior from Philadelphia studying International and Public Affairs.