Youth REACH MD (Reach out, Engage, Assist, and Count to end Homelessness) is an effort to begin to address youth homelessness in Maryland by obtaining information on the number, characteristics, and needs of youth experiencing homelessness or housing instability to help inform efforts to end and prevent youth homelessness.
Every night in America, thousands of youth are living in cars, vacant buildings or couch surfing with family or friends. We don't typically see them on the streets or in shelters. They are often doing their best to go to work or school each day, but they lack a safe, stable place to call home. The reasons are varied – some have left abusive situations, others may have left the foster care or juvenile justice systems with nowhere to go, still others were rejected by their families for who they are or their families were just no longer able to support them because of their own challenges in meeting their basic needs.
Experts agree there is a need for a coordinated and consistent approach to better understand and address youth homelessness. One of the challenges in addressing youth homelessness or housing instability is knowing how many youth and young adults are experiencing homelessness, what their experiences are like, and what are the supportive services that they need.
Youth and young adults with lived experience of homelessness and housing instability are an integral part of planning and implementing a successful Youth Count. Some programs refer to youth involved in planning and board activities as Youth Advocates or Youth Leaders. For the purposes of Youth REACH, youth who are financially compensated to help plan and implement the count are referred to as Youth Ambassadors.
What do youth ambassadors do and why are they so important?
Youth input is what makes Youth REACH successful and separates it from other counts. Unaccompanied homeless youth are a “hidden population” who can be hard to locate, and the best way to design a survey and count to learn more about their experiences and needs is to ask for their
help. There are many ways youth and young adults can get involved in planning a youth count.
Youth and young adults are key to a successful Youth Count. They can help by: • Participating in identification of places youth are likely to be
• Mapping routes for survey administration
• Developing scripts to use when approaching youth
• Administering surveys
• Developing marketing materials and strategies
• Assisting in magnet event planning
• Selecting survey participation incentives
• Acting as ambassadors for the project
• Promoting the count in their communities
• Surveying other youth during the count
• And many more – just ask a Youth Ambassador what they would like to do!