According to a new report, language and definitions surrounding homelessness render homeless black youth invisible to service providers.
The report, conducted with homeless white and black youth in California, found that homeless black youth are less likely to consider themselves homeless. Those surveyed often use terms like “couch surfing” instead, and often stay with a different friend or family member each night.
White youth are more likely to identify as homeless, and more likely to access services that cater to homeless populations (like food banks and shelters).
Co-authored by Colette Auerswald and Ginny Puddlefoot, the report suggests that language and definitions surrounding homelessness must be re-framed to include “unstable housing,” in order to effectively reach and support the needs of struggling black youth.
“I would say about half of the white kids that we work with have been able to access the HOT Team (Homeless Outreach Team) and have used it to get off of the streets. One black youth that we work with has been able to,” said Rob Gitin, director of At the Crossroads, and one of the panelists at the forum. “That plays into the issue of who self-identifies as homeless and who other people look at as homeless.”
In their report, Auerswald and Puddefoot acknowledge that prior to adopting the term “unstable housing,” they had difficulty even identifying African American homeless youth to participate in the survey. Based on their experience, they and other panelists agreed that the number of African American homeless youth in San Francisco and elsewhere is likely grossly underestimated.
Service providers in other urban areas have also noticed an increasing number of African American homeless youth. In Los Angeles, although African Americans are only 9.3 percent of the population, they make up 40 percent of the homeless youth population served by at least one of the major homeless youth organizations.
The report also calls for support services for Black families supporting homeless youth, and vocational services for young people looking for employment opportunities.
Thoughts on the findings of this report?
What else can we do to effectively reach and support homeless black youth?
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