- Family conflict and tumultuous home environments were the most common causes of homelessness identified by youth across all 10 Round One Continuums of Care (CoCs) in the Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program (YHDP).
- Results from a national survey of CoCs show that key barriers to serving youth include a lack of affordable housing, limited educational and employment opportunities, and difficulty in serving minor youth under age 18 because of restrictions with signing leases and consenting to data sharing as well as the need for parental consent to access services such as shelters or health care.
- By mid-implementation, youth in YHDP CoCs reported increasing awareness of and access to services such as coordinated entry systems, case management, and youth-specific shelters and permanent housing assistance.
In 2012, the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness released the Federal Framework to End Youth Homelessness, an updated roadmap of strategies to prevent and end youth homelessness.1 A key goal included the development of coordinated local efforts and systems tailored to the needs of youth at risk of or experiencing homelessness. This goal included developing more efficient methods for identifying and engaging youth and strategically aligning their needs with the most appropriate and effective resources available in their community. HUD responded by launching the Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program (YHDP), which provides resources for communities to create or improve coordinated planning and services for this population of youth aged 14 to 24. This article summarizes published findings to date from the evaluation of the first round of YHDP
In early 2017, during the first round of YHDP, HUD awarded $33 million to 10 Continuums of Care (CoCs).2 Using YHDP funds to implement coordinated planning efforts, CoCs identified and collaborated with various local stakeholders, including housing providers, child welfare agencies, school districts, workforce development organizations, and juvenile justice systems. These CoCs also developed Youth Action Boards (YABs) composed of youth with lived experience with homelessness that were tasked with leading the planning and implementation of YHDP. HUD asked selected CoCs to use these collaborations to assess the local needs and characteristics of youth experiencing or at risk of homelessness and create a coordinated community plan to improve the accessibility and targeting of resources. In addition, HUD offered YHDP CoCs technical assistance to help them navigate the coordinating and planning process, including developing and engaging YABs and governance structures, establishing new youth-focused projects and services, collaborating with local partners, and navigating HUD regulations and policies.
|Continuums of Care Receiving Round One YHDP Awards
|Austin/Travis County, Texas
|Cincinnati/Hamilton County, Ohio
|Connecticut Balance of State, Connecticut
|Kentucky Balance of State, Kentucky
|Northwest Michigan, Michigan
|Ohio Balance of State, Ohio
|San Francisco, California
|Seattle/King County, Washington
|Watsonville/Santa Cruz, California
After selecting the first round of YHDP CoCs, HUD contracted with Westat, an independent research firm, to lead a 4-year evaluation of the demonstration. The evaluation focused on three key areas: the baseline status of the systems in place within each selected community that served targeted youth, the changes to systems that improved access to housing and services for targeted youth over time, and how noted changes affected the number and composition of targeted youth. To achieve these goals, the evaluation addressed the following research questions:
The gender of youth served across all 10 Round One YHDP sites was predominantly female.
- What are the similarities and differences among the YHDP CoCs, and how does their baseline status compare with that of non-YHDP CoCs in their services for youth experiencing homelessness?
- How are the CoCs planning and implementing coordinated community responses to youth homelessness?
- What has been the role of technical assistance in shaping the coordinated community plan and its implementation?
- How are YHDP communities engaging youth in the planning process and in the execution of those plans?
- What strategies do youth and other stakeholders think worked?
- How have services and supports for youth experiencing homelessness changed over the course of the demonstration, and how do those changes compare with communities not selected for YHDP?
- How have the number and composition of youth experiencing homelessness who were in need of services — and who have received services — changed in the demonstration communities that did not receive YHDP funding?
Westat used a longitudinal, multiple comparative case study design of the first 10 CoCs selected as part of YHDP’s Round One sites and selected 3 CoCs that did not receive YHDP funding to serve as comparison sites.3 The evaluation included two rounds of qualitative interviews to gather direct perspectives from local stakeholders (such as advocacy groups and philanthropic organizations) and youth serving on the YABs. Westat conducted focus groups to gather perspectives from youth experiencing homelessness. To create another basis for comparison, Westat distributed two waves of web surveys to CoCs nationally.4 The first wave of surveys was administered in early 2019, during the launch of the Round One YHDP projects, and the second wave was administered in mid-2020, near the end of the Round One demonstration. Westat analyzed Homeless Management Information Systems (HMIS) data reported by YHDP CoCs and the 3 comparison CoCs to understand the services that the youth received and the size of the youth populations served in the 10 YHDP sites and the 3 comparison sites.5 A document review that included grant applications, community plans, and other CoC documents helped to illuminate the YHDP planning process and provided historical context for each of the selected CoCs.
To date, HUD has published three reports about the YHDP evaluation: the Early Implementation Report, published in March 2021; the Initial Continuums of Care Survey, published in July 2021; and Youth Perspectives on Homeless Housing and Services, published in April 2022. A final comprehensive report integrating all data and analysis from the study will be published by the end of 2022. All HUD-published reports from this study have been uploaded to the YHDP evaluation page on HUD User, HUD’s research portal.6
The Early Implementation Report assesses planning efforts across all sites that took place during the first year of the demonstration and the sites’ baseline status in the size and composition of studied youth, services, housing, and system development (such as how the CoCs developed their coordinated community response, collaborations, and implementation of YHDP projects). The report also analyzes data collected from the first round of interviews and focus groups, a document review, HMIS, and the first wave of web surveys. Key findings from this report include the following:
- Development of a coordinated community response:
- The strongest coordination across sites was with child welfare, education, and behavioral health agencies; collaborations with the juvenile justice and healthcare systems were the least common.
- Noted challenges included delays in receiving HUD funding and guidelines; establishing governance structures; identifying partners; and obtaining buy-in from stakeholders, which was particularly challenging within the large, multicounty CoCs.
- HUD technical assistance improved sites’ ability to develop coordinated plans, establish and involve YABs with planning, and improve sites’ ability to collect data and use it in local strategic planning.
- Status of youth homelessness service systems:
- The baseline level of development of each site shaped the early efforts of each site. CoCs with highly developed youth homelessness systems and resources in place tended to use YHDP resources to refine their fully implemented systems, such as through improved navigation or diversion assistance. CoCs with less developed systems tended to focus on a more extensive range of projects, including improvements to their coordinated entry systems, drop-in centers, and outreach.7
- Of the YHDP-funded sites, all planned to expand or create new rapid rehousing projects, half planned to implement host home projects, and two planned projects that allowed youth to move from transitional housing to rapid rehousing. Only a few sites planned to increase access to mainstream services, and no sites planned to increase employment projects.
- Perspectives of youth:
- Family conflict and tumultuous home environments were the most common causes of homelessness identified by youth. Some were rejected by family because of pregnancy or because they identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, and the range of other ways people choose to identify (LGBTQ+).
- Many of the youth participants in YHDP were unaware of the availability of local resources or how to connect to these resources. Youth who were familiar with their community’s coordinated entry system indicated that the process was too slow and burdensome.
- The lack of affordable housing and the high cost of housing were noted as problems across sites, especially in urban areas, where youth could not find jobs that paid enough to support themselves or rent housing.
- Youth recommendations included increasing availability of and access to youth-specific shelters and housing, improving outreach and communication, and assistance with employment. Youth also recommended that CoCs solicit input from youth themselves to improve youth-tailored services.
- Population size and composition of youth:
- The average age of youth served across sites was 21. Youth under age 18 represented only 10 percent of youth across sites but were most common in Northwest Michigan, San Francisco, and Anchorage.
- The youth served were predominantly female. The rate of youth who identified as transgender or gender nonconforming across all sites ranged from 0.1 to 3 percent, higher than most national averages.
- African-American, multiracial, and Native American youth typically were overrepresented in each site, with rates ranging from three to eight times those observed in the general population. Latino youth make up approximately 15 percent of the general population but represented nearly half of the population served in Santa Cruz and one-third of the population in Austin/Travis County.
Inclusion of youth with lived experiences of homelessness in the planning and implementation processes through Youth Action Boards was a critical component of YHDP.
The Initial Continuums of Care Survey report summarizes data collected from the first national survey of CoCs, conducted in early 2019 during the launch of Round One YHDP projects. This report establishes a baseline understanding of the services and housing available for youth at risk of or experiencing homelessness in CoCs nationwide. Key findings from this report included the following:
- The fully implemented system component that was most common across surveyed CoCs was a youth-targeted coordinated entry system. Other common services for youth considered to be partially or fully implemented across the surveyed CoCs were outreach, case management, family and natural support services, and education and employment services. Services least likely to be implemented specifically for youth included homelessness prevention and emergency shelter.
- More than half of surveyed CoCs indicated that they have a coordinated entry system in place that offered multiple points of entry, used known assessment tools, and served youth who were considered homeless and fleeing domestic violence.
- Most surveyed CoCs reported coordinating with entities that included child welfare, education, and mental health and substance abuse service providers. Coordination typically involved representatives from these entities serving as members of the CoC and participating in youth homelessness planning. Less common coordination activities included the blending of funding from multiple programs and providing services and housing.
- Coordination challenges identified across surveyed CoCs included varying definitions of homelessness, restrictions on how funding could be spent, and the sharing of confidential data.
- More than half of surveyed CoCs have a strategic plan for addressing youth homelessness. Fewer than half of the surveyed CoCs, however, indicated that they have conducted youth-specific needs assessments as part of their communities’ planning efforts. Even fewer surveyed CoCs included youth with lived experience with homelessness in their governing and policymaking or have a committee that focuses specifically on youth housing and services. Surveyed CoCs noted that the lack of accurate and complete data for youth at risk of or experiencing homelessness created planning challenges.
- CoCs identified several key barriers to serving youth, including a lack of affordable housing, limited educational and employment opportunities, and difficulty in serving youth under age 18 because of restrictions with signing leases and consenting to data sharing as well as the need for parental consent to access services such as shelters or health care.
Finally, the Youth Perspectives Report provides a qualitative summary of interviews with youth from all 10 of the Round One YHDP CoCs and from the 3 comparison CoCs. The report is based on two rounds of interviews conducted at baseline and at mid-implementation — about 2 years after the start of YHDP. The two rounds of interviews illustrate how the demonstration evolved over the first 2 years of implementation and further document the experiences of youth members of YABs and the perspectives of youth receiving services in these communities.8 Key findings from this report include the following:
- Although YAB members across all sites reported being active in YHDP planning and early implementation, YAB involvement by mid-implementation varied across sites, with fewer sites maintaining active YABs.
- By mid-implementation, awareness of coordinated entry by youth increased compared with baseline. Youth in some sites voiced discomfort when responding to questions asked during the coordinated entry process, because they felt that either their responses were not believed or the questions induced trauma because they concerned sensitive topics such as past abuse.
- Youth across sites during baseline and mid-implementation reported unfamiliarity with homelessness resources in their community. Although youth-centered outreach was available in most communities by mid-implementation, some youth continued to rely on friends, family, or non-homeless service providers (such as clinics, job centers, or schools) to learn about local homelessness resources.
- Youth in the mid-implementation focus groups expressed fewer concerns about accessing permanent housing, likely in part because of the increased resources that were available at that point. Difficulties in locating affordable apartments, however, forced some youth to select apartments with maintenance issues or in areas considered unsafe.
- By mid-implementation, youth in YHDP CoCs reported increasing awareness of and access to services such as coordinated entry, case management, and youth-specific shelters and permanent housing assistance. Youth in the comparison CoCs reported little change in their systems over time, and services mostly remained the same.
A critical component of YHDP was the inclusion of youth with lived experience with homelessness in developing local governance structures and influencing local policymaking. The evaluation took the inclusion of youth a step further, using their direct perspectives to understand how the demonstration may have changed their lives and how local services, planning, and coordination efforts could better serve them. Collectively, the demonstration and its evaluation efforts serve as a model for carrying out HUD’s Evaluation Policy, which calls for the “deliberate and intentional inclusion of the thoughts and perspectives of studied groups.”9
YHDP has greatly expanded since its initial launch in 2017. Through 5 rounds, HUD has awarded nearly $300 million to a total of 77 CoCs. In March 2022, HUD announced its sixth round of awards, offering an additional $72 million to up to 25 CoCs.10 As HUD increases its coordinated efforts and services for youth while critically assessing the results and learning directly from youth themselves, it further demonstrates its commitment to achieving the early goals established by the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness.
— Justin Brock
Social Science Analyst, HUD
U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness. 2013. "Framework to End Youth Homelessness: A Resource Text for Dialogue and Action."
CoCs are designated communities, such as a city, county, or region, that function as a local network of stakeholders and providers to serve populations who are at risk of or are experiencing homelessness.
The three comparison CoCs selected for the study were Sonoma County, Colorado Balance of State, and Memphis.
A total of 305 out of 380 CoCs nationally responded to the web survey — a response rate of 80 percent. The Round One YHDP CoCs and the three comparison CoCs were excluded from the survey.
HMIS collects and reports client-level data of people accessing homelessness services within each CoC. More information can be found at www.hudexchange.info/programs/hmis/.
- U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. "Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program" (www.huduser.gov/portal/Youth-Homelessness-Demonstration-Program.html). Accessed 22 April 2022.
- Coordinated entry is a centralized and streamlined method for accessing homeless services within the community. More information about coordinated entry can be found at www.hudexchange.info/resource/4427/coordinated-entry-policy-brief/.
- The Youth Perspectives Report includes 25 interviews with YAB members and more than 60 focus groups with youth experiencing homelessness.
- U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. 2021. "HUD Program Evaluation Policy-Policy Statement," Federal Register 86: 154.
- U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. 2022. "Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program," Notice of Funding Opportunity, FR-6500-N-35.
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