Giving Compass' Take:

• Voices of Youth Count is an organization that seeks to highlight young homeless individuals' stories so that others can understand the experiences and so data can hopefully guide policy shifts around homelessness. 

• What policy changes address youth homelessness issues specifically?

• Read about the state index on youth homelessness. 

At age 14 in a small town in Washington State, Natalie’s experience with homelessness began. Natalie’s dad left her family, and her mom fell into depression and started using methamphetamines. "[I]f she wasn’t drunk or high, she was gone," Natalie noted in one part of Voices of Youth Count’s research efforts. For the next six months, Natalie cared for her four younger siblings. She started to miss school and ultimately dropped out. The stress of her circumstance mounted. Through friends, she encountered meth, a drug that had become tragically common in her community. She started using. This only added to conflict with her mom, and, after a fight with her mom’s new boyfriend, Natalie was kicked out.

Natalie then cycled between couch surfing and trap houses, where illegal drugs are sold. She exchanged sex with an older man so that she could "have a roof over [her] head." Natalie traveled to other cities for housing and informal support. By 17, when chemical dependency had taken a strong hold, she stayed for extended periods in the shed of someone she knew. Natalie found herself regularly returning to juvenile detention — where she says she was grateful for a bed to sleep in and respites of safety. When Natalie was interviewed, she was about to embark on a residential treatment program.

Through multiple methods and research angles, Voices of Youth Count sought to capture and understand the voices and experiences of thousands of young people like Natalie. While the deprivation of housing stability was the common thread in Voices of Youth Count research, the stories of youth homelessness — and the opportunities for intervention — rarely centered on housing alone. Every experience, every youth, was unique. Yet, with the data gained through Voices of Youth Count, we can begin to better understand the scale and scope of the challenge and the patterns that can guide smarter policy and practice.

Read the full brief on youth homelessness in America at Voices of Youth Count.