Politics

12,000 California youth are homeless. Politicians say they want to change that

Antonio Garcia, 27, has been homeless in Van Nuys for about two years.
Antonio Garcia, 27, has been homeless in Van Nuys for about two years. "I'm trying to hang in here," Garcia says. He's focused on teaching and helping homeless youth struggling with addiction.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC

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Over 12,000 young people are homeless in California on any given night, and a group of state lawmakers is looking for ways to tackle the growing problem.

Officials held a joint informational meeting of the State Assembly and Senate Human Services Committees at the Los Angeles LGBT Center in Hollywood Tuesday to hear testimony from a variety of experts and formerly homeless youth.

"One segment of our homeless population that has not received enough focus, resources, and attention, and too often are invisible to the population are youth," said Senator Scott Wiener of San Francisco. 

While it has increased its investments in homeless youth in recent years, the state does not invest enough specific resources in children and young adults who lack housing, said Assembly Member Blanca Rubio of Baldwin Park. 

The state legislature made some strides with a package of bills to promote housing affordability, she said, but "one of the issues we didn't address is youth homelessness and I think it should have been part of the discussion."

Los Angeles has seen a considerable spike in youth homelessness over the past few years. 

A count conducted in January tallied 5,847 homeless youth in L.A.'s continuum of care, which includes all of the county except for Long Beach, Glendale, and Pasadena. Those cities conduct their own counts.

The same count from 2016 found 3,540 homeless youth.

Some of the highest concentrations are in metro Los Angeles, Southeast L.A. and the Antelope Valley.

When youth who are couch surfing or living in motels are included in the tally, it rises dramatically.

Using that definition, the Los Angeles County Office of Education counted 63,000 homeless kids in L.A.’s public schools. A recent study found one in five students in L.A.’s community colleges is homeless and statewide, a study of the California State University system found one in ten students in that system is homeless.

Advocates told the panel of lawmakers homeless youth are disproportionately coming out of the foster care system and juvenile justice system. Many are LGBTQ teens who were kicked out of their homes.

L.A. County has dedicated Measure H funds to the population and is planning to increase the number of shelter beds for youth and further build out the long-term housing options for young adults.

Three quarters of youth experiencing homelessness in L.A. County are unsheltered.

“We have an opportunity to bring a lot of services to scale and we’re excited about that,” said Peter Lynn, director of the L.A. Homeless Services Authority. “There are lots of stand-along programs that do a great job, but there’s nothing that connects them to other services or housing placements.”

That, he said, is changing, as the county integrates all of its services into one database that tracks and links individuals and the services they receive.

Advocates said the state has not done enough to help.

“State funding needs to be increased,” Shahera Hyatt, director of the Homeless Youth Project. “It’s budget dust, it’s not enough money to really change course. It’s also oversight and accountability.”

Others echoed the call for greater accountability 

"We feel like we're not being listened to," said Nova Monet, who became homeless when she was 14. "We have all these statistics and we know that there's a problem, but nobody's taking it as seriously as it needs to be taken."

Advocates also called for a state office dedicated to homelessness and some advocated for a specific office of youth homelessness in the hopes of coordinating efforts and providing some sort of universal standards for services.

“Fifty percent of chronically homeless people had their first homeless experience when they were youth,” said said Sherilyn Adams of Larkin Street Youth Services in San Francisco. “You want to stop chronic homelessness? Solve youth homelessness.”