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Estimating Homelessness Among Young People


The lack of reliable data on the prevalence of young people experiencing homelessness makes it difficult to provide responsive services or develop prevention strategies. To bridge this critical knowledge gap, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funded the Center for Policy Research and the Colorado Lab to generate a more complete estimate of homelessness among youth and young adults (ages 14-24) through the use of administrative data linkages. A new research brief details the initial phase of the Colorado study, focused solely on Denver. Learnings are now being applied to support the identification of young people experiencing homelessness statewide.

Utilizing the Governor’s Office of Information Technology’s Linked Information Network of Colorado (LINC), which is supported by the Colorado Lab, data on youth and young adult homelessness were examined across the Child Welfare, Denver Public Schools, and Metro Denver Homeless Initiative systems. These linkages are critical as no single system identifies all young people who experience homelessness.

The voices of young people with personal experience of homelessness were also included in the study. “As researchers, it is important to prioritize incorporating the voices of young people with real life experience to paint a full picture of the stories behind the data,” said Lanae Davis, Senior Research Associate for the Center for Policy Research. Based on her many years of experience working in the field of youth homelessness, Davis says this set of focus groups was especially sobering. “The level of crisis these young people are experiencing, and the difficulty they’re having in simply getting their basic needs met was surprising. What we heard was so much worse than before the pandemic.

“They referred me to a counselor for mental health therapy. But you can’t counsel a roof over my head, you know?”

Unhoused youth speaking about services provided in school setting

As the study expands statewide, the heartening news, Davis says, is the extraordinary engagement of differing sectors coming together to address the crises of young people experiencing homelessness. “We are building a sustainable and replicable approach to be used across rural communities and urban settings alike, in Colorado and across the country, to identify young people at risk of and experiencing homelessness. Once this system is in place, we will be much better equipped to identify where young people are located, how they are attached to systems, and intervene at earlier stages of housing instability to better target where supports and resources can be deployed.”

To learn more, contact Dr. Elysia Clemens, Colorado Lab Deputy Director and COO.