Youth Homelessness in Philadelphia

Philadelphia is home to at least 569 youth ages 13 to 25 who were counted as being homeless and unaccompanied on a single night in August 2016. Of this number, about 28%  had ever been in foster care, the juvenile justice system or both; 70% are African American; 78% graduated high school or received a GED; and more than a third of females reported being mothers or currently pregnant. These and other key findings on the city’s homeless youth population are detailed in a 106-page report the Office of Homeless Services (OHS) released today and hailed as the city’s most comprehensive and insightful report to date on the complex problem of youth homelessness in Philadelphia. 

The document is based largely on information OHS gathered while conducting a point-in-time count of homeless youth as part of the national Voices of Youth Count effort to end youth homelessness led by Chapin Hall, a policy research center at the University of Chicago. Philadelphia is one of 22 cities from around the country to partner with Chapin on its nationwide effort and timed the release of its local report with the release of Chapin’s national report on the scope of youth homelessness around the US. 

“Having both a national study of this magnitude as well as a deep dive report on the specific needs of youth experiencing homelessness in Philadelphia is an invaluable asset to our efforts to address this critical issue,” said OHS Director Liz Hersh. “Our primary goal in participating in the Voices of Youth Count study was to learn more about the needs of this hidden and vulnerable population so that we can accelerate solutions to prevent and end youth homelessness.” 

Other findings include: LGBTQ youth are over-represented within the city’s youth homelessness population; youth homelessness is a hidden issue often disguised as couch-surfing; strong cross-system collaboration among public systems including the school district, child welfare system and justice system are crucial to preventing youth homelessness and ensuring that young people do not fall through the cracks. 

Chapin’s Voices of Youth Count initiative introduced an innovative methodology to count youth and young adults experiencing homelessness wherein young adults who have experienced homelessness and local youth agencies partnered with OHS to conduct youth-led counts and surveys of young people and providers to collect information about the number, characteristics and services available to youth experiencing homelessness. “This youth-driven methodology has yielded incredible data on the needs of youth experiencing homelessness,” Hersh said. 

The Philly Homes 4 Youth Coalition, a group of more than 30 public and private agencies working to address youth homelessness, and OHS’s Young Adult Leadership Committee will host a forum on the Voices of Youth CountPhiladelphia report and findings on Tuesday, November 28th from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. in the Mayor’s Reception Room at City Hall. The Philadelphia Voices of Youth Count report and information on the upcoming discussion can be found on the OHS website at http://www.philadelphiaofficeofhomelessservices.org/services/youth-initiative/. 

In addition to participating in the national effort, Philadelphia was one of five cities in the country to engage young people currently or formerly experiencing homelessness in detailed interview sessions as part of the Voices of Youth Count project. OHS plans to release the substance of these interviews and the insight provided in the coming months. 

Voices of Youth Count is made possible with generous financial support from Arcus Foundation, Ballmer Group Philanthropy, Campion Foundation, Casey Family Programs, Chapin Hall, Dr. Inger Davis, Elton John AIDS Foundation, Melville Charitable Trust, Raikes Foundation, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Chapin Hall is solely responsible for the accuracy of the statements and interpretations in Voices of Youth Countpublications. Such statements and interpretations do not necessarily reflect the views of the government or any of Chapin Hall’s other partners.

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