Study finds 1,400 youths homeless in Baltimore
Abell Foundation reports far higher numbers than had previously been thought
Homelessness among Baltimore youths is much higher than previously thought, according to an Abell Foundation report to be released today.
More than 1,400 young people under the age of 25 were unaccompanied by a parent or guardian, without a safe, stable, affordable place to live, according to data collected by homeless advocates, service providers, the University of Maryland, the city and other stakeholders.
The Youth REACH MD survey released today included not only youths living on the streets and in homeless shelters, but also those in unstable living situations — who might be staying for brief periods of time with friends or relatives.
More than half of the city’s homeless youth surveyed opted to stay briefly with friends or relatives instead of living on the street or turning to homeless service providers, the report found. Many said they are reluctant to describe themselves as homeless because they fear the stigma and don’t want to be involved in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems, according to the report.
Exacerbating the problem, most traditional homeless services are geared toward adults, and the few youth-centric homeless centers are typically already at capacity, the report said.
“As a result, the already high number of unaccompanied homeless youth cited by the Youth REACH MD findings is likely much higher,” the report said.
The survey was the most thorough ever completed in Baltimore City, said Danielle Meister of the Mayor’s Office of Human Services, who coordinates the city’s Continuum of Care, the group that performed the survey.
The city expected its count to outstrip the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s annual homeless numbers because it was done over three weeks with an expanded scope.
Megan Lucy, who authored the Abell Foundation’s report, said the nonprofit hired current and former homeless youths to help find others and assist with interviewing them.
The report followed HUD’s announcement two weeks ago that it had recorded an 8 percent drop in homelessness in Maryland. It found only 279 homeless youths across the state on one night last January.
The Abell Foundation report pointed out problems with HUD’s “point-in-time” surveys, performed on one night each January, and which advocates say undercounts the homeless youth population.
HUD said it is working to improve its methods of accounting for homeless youths. The agency is partnering with the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness and the U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services for a more accurate picture, spokeswoman Nika Edwards said.
Those agencies, Edwards said, “plan to use 2017 as the baseline year for tracking efforts to end homelessness among youth on the streets” and in shelters.
Cindy R. Williams, founder of Loving Arms, the city’s only emergency shelter for homeless youths, said youth homelessness is difficult to count, especially because of the lack of services available.
“It’s impossible to say it’s decreasing when there’s no services tied to that group of young people,” she said.
Loving Arms in Northwest Baltimore is one of only six youth-focused service providers in the city.