What Does the Washoe County Homeless Youth Count Data Tell Us? (Opinion)

Great Clips provided free haircuts at the most recent homeless youth point-in time count. Image: Ty O'Neil.
Great Clips provided free haircuts at the most recent homeless youth point-in time count. Image: Ty O’Neil.

By Monica DuPea

Nevada currently ranks first in the nation for unsheltered, unaccompanied youth. One in four homeless Nevadans are between 18 and 24 years old, and only one in ten unaccompanied homeless youth are sheltered. In 2017, National Estimates put our state count of unsheltered, unaccompanied youth (under 24 years old) at 2,166, with 7% (152) in Washoe County. 

2019 was Washoe County’s and Nevada Youth Empowerment Project’s 8th year conducting an older youth specific homeless count. Two years ago, it was relocated from the West Street Plaza to the Eddy House. And, we’ve seen a bit of a shift these past two counts, with a majority of the young adults surveyed report being “nebulously” housed, meaning their home situation is lacking definite form or limits.

It’s vague and lacks assurances of future cooperation. These are youth whose potential is not being fully realized, but who do not meet the definition of homelessness.

A majority of these young people are what we would consider “Opportunity Youth” (OY), meaning they are out of work and out of school. There are approximately 21,675 OY in Washoe County alone and almost 5 million throughout the nation. And, not coincidentally, our county also has a low vacancy rate and very few, if any, available units for those at or below the extremely low-income threshold.

Unless a day program is mental-health specific, these young adults should be spending their time in the economic mobility continuum.

Ideally, the public and private sectors would fund a strategic continuum including youth-oriented emergency shelter beds, specialized housing for subpopulations of youth for the shelter to refer to, and an array of uncovered supportive services specific to young people that are not provided by housing programs or shelter.

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Unless a day program is mental-health specific, these young adults should be spending their time in the economic mobility continuum, including organized training, volunteering, attending job services or training, or at community centers.

Youth programmers would directly and actively work with youth to determine whether something isn’t getting done because of a hill, a skill or a will, then develop an appropriate intervention/approach to overcome the challenge and meet the expectation.
 
As a community, one of the things we can do immediately is begin to recognize the missed opportunities in schools, communities and public services to prevent youth homelessness. Did you know that 29% of youth surveyed at the last count reported aging out of foster-care, and fifty-seven percent of them said no one helped them find housing?

28% reported having a Big Brother or Big Sister growing up, and 45% reported attending a Boys and Girls Club. (A question to consider: How are our tax-funded systems of support perpetuating, or not, the cycle of government dependency by transitioning children and youth from the child welfare system to the adult dependency system when they “age out” at 18?)
 
Youth homelessness must be prevented to be solved.  How can our community as a whole look beyond the dollars and cents and see access for youth to accountable and organized housing, food, education and healthcare as a moral imperative? 

Deep initiatives are required consisting of constructive and meaningful collaborations between housing suppliers, education and training providers, government officials, investors, and nonprofits to effectively bring youth back into the mainstream as contributing citizens.

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About Monica DuPea

Monica DuPea is the founder and director of the Nevada Youth Empowerment Project and Truckee Meadows Housing Solutions. She is an expert on homeless youth and is pioneering a path to provide housing for our working poor. Monica has been recognized as a City Super Hero, a Reno Riveter, a Local Legend, and a Top 20 under 40 by the Young Professionals Network.

About Monica DuPea

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