The Mission:

To put an end to homelessness in Kern County through collaborative planning and action.

In This Section

For information: Homelessness Resources Administrative Assistant Jessica M. Janssen (661) 834-1580 or Jessica.F@uwkern.org. 

 


Youth - The Invisible Homeless

1/22/2015

YOUTH....The invisible homeless

The Kern County Homeless Collaborative (KCHC), as part of a state wide effort, will add a youth homelessness focus to the annual Homelessness Census taking place Friday, January 23. The effort is made possible by a $2,000 grant received by the KCHC from the California Homeless Youth Project (CHYP). The Project is led by UC Berkeley and funded by California Wellness Foundation.

California has the largest population of homeless students in the country, 270,000 children, nearly the size of the city of Bakersfield, and twice the rate of homeless students as the national average. This, measured by the McKinney Vento Act’s homeless definition (2012-2013)…and those numbers are growing. California schools reported 20,000 more homeless students than the previous school year (an increase of 8%) and 7,000 of those students live in Kern County, according to the Kern County Superintendent of Schools.

Ages 12 to 24 are now being called the “invisible homeless” because they are stealthy. To avoid being reported as unaccompanied they usually don’t stay in areas frequented by adult homeless individuals,” said Christine Lollar Homelessness Project Manager. “It’s quite frightening. While housed children have scheduled activities and warm beds, homeless youth are exampling a gypsy-like behavior, calling themselves “travelers”, sleeping on rooftops, in abandoned buildings and alcoves.”

According to the CHYP the ripple effects of this trend are immense: higher dropout rates, loss of lifetime earnings, and diminishing health, resulting in a loss to California’s economy estimated to be in the billions.

Lollar emphasized “As a community we must be proactive in ending this trend locally.” As a thoroughfare between Los Angeles and the Bay Area, KCHC is being strategic. “This youth count, as a component of our annual census, will help our member and partner agencies, as well as local government, strategically address the housing and service needs of youth who are homeless,” she added

The  McKinney Vento Act, a measurement used by the Department of Education, determines if a student is homeless if they lack a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence such as motels, trailer parks or camping rounds, “doubling up” (where numerous families live in one residence), or “couch surfing”.  Surfing is especially common among students who have left their homes, most usually due to family discord. Often youth are led into human trafficking in exchange for a place to sleep. 

Eleven of the KCHC’s 24 members receive US Housing and Urban Development Department (HUD) Continuum of Care (CoC) funding. HUD defines homelessness differently – people are considered homeless only when staying in a place not meant to be habitable by humans. Under HUD rules the KCHC cannot count someone as homeless if they slept the previous night in a motel or with a family member.

In 2011 most areas of California had not altered their census surveys or efforts to identify a youth presence. In 2013 several coastal and Bay Area cities piloted efforts and altered their processes to capture youth information, and numbers soared. “We hope this is not the case in Kern. We know the Kern High School District counts over 200 high school students as homeless under McKinney Vento (less than 3% are considered homeless under HUD rules). Yet, the January 2014 Homeless Census counted that same number for all children under 18 [under HUD guidelines]. We’re not taking any chances. These kids matter far too much,” Lollar said.

More than 200 volunteers – and two specially trained young adults - have been trained to work through a series of questions helping the Collaborative identify trends and circumstances across the county. The two youth were selected to provide a peer to peer experience at a standing agency site, not being disclosed to help youth feel comfortable sharing their circumstances with a peer.

Special emphasis was placed, during training, on identifying youth. Questions include a variety of topics. Homeless individuals surveyed will receive hygiene packets that include: new socks, toiletries, a snack, and other items including flash memory/thumb drives for use in their school work – donated by Independent Living Center of Kern County, a KCHC member. The designated location, frequented by youth, has been preparing for the day with an awareness campaign to invite homeless youth to a safe day of food and giveaways so youth will feel comfortable coming in. “We want them to know they matter,” said Lollar.

Survey teams of three or more will span out throughout Kern for a 24 hour period to count homeless who sleep outdoors, in parks, alleys, by the river, under bridges, cars, abandoned buildings, garages or other structures without electricity or running water, etc.  Individuals and families will be provided with referrals for services if needed – and a “stat team” will be on call to address immediate crisis situations.

The Census for Kern, conducted since 2007, also includes a secondary component. Kern County has been selected as one of 68 US communities to participate in ‘Zero: 2016’, a two year national campaign to end veteran and chronic homelessness. The effort begins January 1, to intensively end veteran homelessness by December 2015 and chronic homelessness by December 2016. “As we find ways to house specific vulnerable populations, others are increasing, such as growing youth populations and families and children are the fastest growing homeless population,” Lollar stated. “It’s three steps forward and two back. Ultimately, everyone deserves basic necessities, a roof over their head, food and running water, safety and health care,” she said.

2015 is a pivotal year. While the count is not all inclusive of the homelessness ‘picture’, it has historically been a gauge for work efforts. KCHC recognizes and wants the community to understand that the Census does not quantify homelessness efforts – or even success – on its own. But rather it is just one component of a full homelessness “puzzle”.

The Census is not a standalone statement that the fight against homelessness has been won. Rather, as a community we must enumerate individuals who may meet the definition of homelessness in other categories such as the Department of Education data, the US Census Bureau’s American Housing Survey (which captures doubled up households and worst-case housing needs) and other relevant data sets to collectively measure progress and performance and all necessary pieces of the full puzzle to understand the complexities of homelessness.

In the coming days a community conversation will culminate the grant through the convening of 50 CSUB students, youth advocacy groups and foster youth to engages youth directly in policy discussions, giving voice to their experiences and recommendations. “In 10 years these youth will have children. They will be families. It’s crucial to our society that we capture the aspirations of youth and how they wish to define their future,” said Lollar.

HYP is a multi-year research and policy initiative of the California Research Bureau and the California State Library supported by the California Wellness Foundation. The Project highlights issues and solutions for youth ages 12-24 who are living “on the edge” of homelessness or are currently homeless.

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