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Youth Homelessness Has Dropped, Feds Report (But It's Complicated)

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The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates that there were 127,787 homeless children in the United States in 2015, a 5.8 percent drop from 2014. But other agencies and youth advocates dispute that figure.

In HUD's 2015 point-in-time homeless count, 23 percent of all homeless people were children under the age of 18, the agency reported Thursday. That includes 4,667 unaccompanied youths under 18. Overall, the nation saw a 2 percent drop in homelessness, according to HUD's estimates.

But HUD called efforts to measure youth homelessness "a work in progress because communities are still learning how to collect this data accurately."

"Because of this, HUD cautions its partners and stakeholders from drawing conclusions regarding the state of youth homelessness based solely on this data," the agency said in a news release.

So what's wrong with the data?

"HUD's point-in-time count is intended to give an estimate of how many homeless Americans there are on one particular night," First Focus Campaign for Children, a children's advocacy group, said in a news release about the figures. "It includes families staying in homeless shelters, as well as families identified by volunteers who survey streets, parks, light rail stations and tunnels, all-night businesses, and other places frequented by homeless people."

But that estimate often undercounts children because shelters that accomodate children may be full, and unaccompanied children may avoid such facilities, First Focus said. In addition, homeless youth are less likely than adults to sleep on the streets, where they can more easily be counted, the organization said.

HUD says it has ongoing efforts to improve its count of homeless children.

Advocates for poor children have also sought to expand HUD's definition of homelessness so that youth considered homeless by other federal agencies can qualify for federal housing assistance that is currently off limits to them.

The Department of Education uses a broader definition of homelessness, counting children who are "doubled up," or sharing homes with other families.

Using that definition, U.S. public schools counted 1,301,239 homeless children and youth in the 2013-14 school year, a 3.4 percent increase from the 2012-13 school year.

Further reading on homelessness, poverty, and schools:

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