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Social work team leads research on youth homelessness

In 2016, the Graduate College of Social Work analyzed data on homeless youth, creating recommendations for legislators to consider during the upcoming congressional session. | File photo/The Cougar

In 2016, the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs tasked UH’s Graduate College of Social Work to analyze survey data on youth homelessness in Texas and create a report for legislators on what issues to focus.

“One of the challenges of this issue is that it is broad and so we say homeless youth, but people talk about that population in different ways, and they mean different people,” assistant social work professor Sarah Narendorf said. “There’s school data that has large numbers of young people who are identified through school systems, and that is anywhere from young people, with families, who are elementary age to high school kids and unaccompanied homeless youth.”

Narendorf led the study and worked with researchers and students who experienced homelessness. Her and her team analyzed data from the Texas Network of Youth Services’ survey project, Youth Count Texas. They also analyzed data provided by the Texas Education Agency and data from the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, according to a news release.

“When charged by the Texas Legislature with the task of conducting a study of homeless youth in Texas, the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs evaluated which potential organizations had experience and could carry out the required work,” said Naomi Cantu, coordinator for Homelessness Programs and Policy with the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs.

Out of around 105 million people living in the United States under the age of 25, 35,686 were identified by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in 2016 as homeless and unaccompanied by a legal guardian.

During the 2014 and 2015 school year, schools around the country identified 111,881 homeless students; 15,608 of the youths were classified as unaccompanied by a legal guardian, according to GCSW’s report.

The project was part of a broader mandate from House Bill 679 in the 84th legislative session, which required TDHCA to submit a report to the Texas legislature before December 1, according to the Texas legislature website.

“I am on a clinical track in the program, mainly focusing on direct face to face work with adolescents,” master of social work student Danielle Jenkins said. “It was nice to have a macro look at youth and even get a chance to propose something to the legislator.”

The GCSW team identified five areas to divide their recommendations to the Legislature: improving the way data is gathered involving homeless youth, providing more complete housing support and support to youth identified in schools, addressing needs regarding foster care and the juvenile justice system and making it easier for youths to exit homelessness, according to their report.

The GCSW team participated in phase three of the bill’s mandate, meaning they did not collect data themselves, but analyzed it and formulated input which they presented to chief stakeholders, Narendorf said.

The 85th legislative session began January 10, about a month after GCSW released their report, and the session will adjourn May 29.

“We just released our report right before this session, so there wasn’t an opportunity for legislators to actually write legislation in time to submit it this time,” Narendorf said. “My hope would be that it continues to have an impact into the next legislative section.”

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