The annual count of Connecticut’s homeless, coordinated by the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness (CCEH) on Feb. 18 of this year, shows major gains made in the efforts to end family, chronic and veteran homelessness.  That’s good news.

At the same time, however, the first-ever statewide count of homeless youth shows as many as 3,000 young people (age 24 or under) facing homelessness in Connecticut and in need of very basic services –  including food and shelter.  We have seen success in coming together to tackle adult homelessness, now we need to do the same for vulnerable young people.

We know that homelessness early in life can set these young people on a trajectory for tragedy and poor life outcomes.  Addressing their housing and other needs now can set them on the path to stability and productivity.  The choice should be obvious.

Overall, homelessness in Connecticut is down 10 percent compared to 2013 statistics, with strong gains for families and single adults alike, whether sheltered or on unsheltered.  Notably, the number of people living on the streets is down 32 percent from 2013, the last time a count of the unsheltered homeless was completed.  These declines follow major investments to end homelessness by the administration of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and the General Assembly.

The results of the count reflect the great work of providers in our communities, who are working together in new ways to prioritize clients in terms of need and guard against duplication efforts.   Through this work, we are making good progress toward achieving important milestones: providers across the state joined Gov. Malloy in signing onto the national Zero: 2016 initiative to end veteran homelessness by 2015 and to end chronic homelessness (the long-term homelessness of people with severe disabilities) by 2016.

Chronic homelessness is down 21 percent across Connecticut, and only 80 veterans were identified in emergency shelters across the state.

This year, CCEH also coordinated the first-ever statewide count of homeless unaccompanied youth (age 24 and under).  The count was a collaborative effort among advocates, service providers, educators and other experts and included youth-friendly surveys and direct community outreach to youth experiencing homelessness.  The count showed that Connecticut has as many as 3,000 youth who are homeless or without a stable place to live.  The results provide policy makers a sense of the scope of this important problem, and give us reason to pause.

We found that youth experiencing homelessness have trouble attending school (only 35.5 percent are attending school regularly) and maintaining steady employment (only 21 percent of those of legal working age are currently working).

A quarter of the youth who self-reported as literally homeless identify as LGTBQIA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual).   And the unmet needs most identified by youth were education, employment, food, and a long-term place to live.  These are basic needs, and when young people have no way to meet them, they are vulnerable to becoming further victimized, as well as suffering from deteriorating mental health.

The Opening Doors for Youth Action Plan, created by the Reaching Home Campaign’s Homeless Youth Workgroup, which includes stakeholders from education, mental health, homeless providers, child protection, juvenile justice, and housing, as well as youth, provides a way forward with action steps to meet the basic needs of vulnerable youth.  The Plan calls for tools to screen and refer youth in need, expanding direct services and supports, providing training to providers to help them work effectively with young people to stabilize their housing, improving data collection, and advocating for needed policy changes.

Connecticut prioritized ending homelessness among adults and families, and it’s working.  Now is the time to do the same for homeless youth, because in doing so, we are stemming the tide of turning youth into chronically homeless adults.

Lisa Tepper Bates  is executive director of the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness. Stacey Violante Cote is drector of the Teen Legal Advocacy Project of the Center for Children’s Advocacy, and chair of the Reaching Home Homeless Youth Workgroup.

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