Homelessness is a huge black eye on the face of California, and youth homelessness is an oft-overlooked aspect of the scourge, according to a new report from John Burton Advocates for Youth.
The report looks at the rollout of two major state programs aimed at addressing homelessness in the Golden State during the coronavirus pandemic, which strangled the economy and hit vulnerable youth like aging-out foster kids especially hard. Unlike most young adults, they are trying to get through the pandemic without the luxury of being able to fall back on the help of an extended family.
In sum, the report found, the $650 million Homeless Housing, Assistance and Prevention program and the $846 million Project Homekey did not devote funds specifically to help unaccompanied homeless youth in proportion to their numbers.
Youth accounted for 9% of the state’s homeless people, according to the state’s 2019 point-in-time count. Yet that same year, 2.6% of the homelessness beds in California were set aside for unaccompanied homeless youth.
The Homeless Housing, Assistance and Prevention program, at least, set aside money to address the youth homelessness problem, requiring all counties, 13 big cities and all local service networks to spend a minimum of 8% of those funds on housing for youth.
The study found no violations of that requirement. All told, 10% of the money is set aside for youth. San Diego County was a glaring outlier, devoting almost 94% of its $10 million to the youth homeless problem. On the other hand, the continuum of care covering San Jose and Santa Clara County spent exactly 8% of its funds on unaccompanied homeless youth, but that group makes up 20% of the homeless population.
Project Homekey, in contrast, does not specify that any amount of its $850 million addresses youth homelessness. And sure enough, the John Burton Advocates for Youth study found that just two out of the 94 projects funded were described as doing so. It seems likely, however, that some unaccompanied youth were probably helped by programs aimed at “individuals who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.”
The authors of the study recommended that in the future, legislation aimed at addressing the state’s homelessness problem require that jurisdictions dedicate at least 10% of their funds to youth-oriented services, including supportive services to make sure kids don’t return to homelessness after the pandemic. Jurisdictions with a high percentage of vulnerable youth should dedicate significantly more, the report said.