Known for its recreational facilities and youth programs today, the YMCA movement started in London 175 years ago to give young boys a safe place to spend their time instead of being exposed to dangerous street life. Halfway around the world in San Diego, we carry on that legacy in many ways, including our transitional housing programs for homeless youth.

Our role in last week’s Point in Time Count, the annual, federally mandated census of people experiencing homelessness on a single night, is another way we’re committed to ending youth homelessness. As an expert in serving homeless youth, the YMCA has hosted a count site in City Heights since a dedicated youth count was implemented in 2015.

Acknowledging homeless youth as a subpopulation among other homeless individuals is important because, compared to a homeless adult, youth have not yet had the life experience associated with developing the independent living skills and work background to successfully end their homeless experience. However, youth have historically been underrepresented in previous Point in Time Count efforts, obscuring the breadth of the problem and limiting knowledge that could greatly impact efforts to end youth homelessness.

Youth experience homelessness differently than adults, so efforts to count homeless youth should reflect those differences for the most accurate count possible. When a community has an accurate picture of youth experiencing homelessness, they can make strategic investments in services and resources that are proportional to the scope of the issue.

This year, our role as the lead agency coordinating all Youth Point in Time Count activities for North County San Diego did just that. Our approach took place over the course of one week and utilized information from participants experiencing homelessness and combined on-foot canvassing and interviews in partnership with youth with shared life experience at our open-access support centers and housing programs. These changes improved upon the traditional one-time count structure to better inform the field about needs here in our San Diego Community.

Click on the infographic below to learn more about how this year’s process for counting youth differed from previous efforts: