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Volunteers and members of the Citywide Youth Coalition on Wednesday began a citywide count of homeless youth, an effort designed to update data and identify areas of improvement for social services.

Conducted in collaboration with the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness, the count relies on 37-question surveys, open from Jan. 24 to Jan. 29. Respondents take surveys in two-hour shifts at various public locations, such as the New Haven Free Public Library using the mobile application “We Count.” The organizers will compile the resulting data and share it with the state to promote a budget to address youth homelessness.

“It’s hard to define homelessness in youth, as some are sleeping at an aunt’s or friend’s house,” said Sharon Rabera, the co-organizer of Youth Count 2018. “At the same time, they aren’t staying at home where the family is. It’s hard to find how to make the youth understand what homelessness is because everyone has a different definition.”

The number of areas and youth surveyed this year has increased, Rabera said. She believes this increase is due to the large number of volunteers and support from Gateway Community College.

Youth homelessness is a rapidly expanding issue, as many youths are getting “kicked out” of their own homes because of their sexuality or conflicting religious preferences, said Youth Advisor for the Citywide Youth Coalition Jeremy Cajigas.

“Quite often when we are talking about youth homelessness, we’re talking about people who are couch-surfing, not necessarily in the street,” said Addys Castillo, executive director of the Citywide Youth Coalition.

Youths that enter romantic relationships with older adults generally start living with them, Castillo said, and often face difficulties in dealing with domestic violence. Even if they call 211 — a hotline for social services — these youths are not granted access to domestic violence shelters since they are under 18, but simultaneously cannot receive help from child services as they are deemed too old, she added.

The 2018 count and survey are partly supported by a $6 million grant from a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that aims to end youth homelessness by 2020, Castillo said.

With the survey, the CYC is collecting comprehensive data about the homeless youth in hopes of identifying specific services that would be most beneficial for those in New Haven, said Valerie Yang ’20, a volunteer for the count.

“The survey is 37 questions, so we are finding out a lot more than just the numbers,” Yang said. “We are asking who they stay with and information about themselves, so we get an idea about the kinds of services we need to provide them with.”

Survey participants receive free food and coats, Yang said, partly to incentivize their attendance.

Although the scope of this year’s survey has broadened, the count still does not include all potential locations, Rabera said.

“I feel like people don’t often know the opportunities and help that’s available to them,” Cajigas said. “Through this survey these kids will know the opportunities they can make use of.”

The 2017 count of overall homelessness in Connecticut identified 3,387 people experiencing homelessness.

Jever Mariwala | jever.mariwala@yale.edu