Carroll County is part of the pilot phase of a new initiative that is intended to count homeless youth and young adults, an effort organizers say could lead to better services for this vulnerable population.

Now through Sunday, March 26, unaccompanied homeless youths ages 13 through 17 and young adults ages 18 through 24, are encouraged to participate in the 2017 Youth Count Survey, a campaign of Youth REACH MD being conducted through the Carroll County Circle of Caring Homelessness Board.

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"The point of it is to get a better understanding of the number, the characteristics and the needs of unaccompanied youths and young adults," said Jim Kunz, McDaniel College professor of social work and Circle of Caring board member. "Once we have a better understanding, hopefully we can improve services that are available to them."

Although definitions of homelessness can vary from place to place and agency to agency, Kunz said for the purpose of this survey, unaccompanied youth includes both those teens who may be literally living on the streets as well as those who are couch surfing or living with an adult who is not their parent or legal guardian.

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"The primary aim is to engage people in the conversation and hopefully generate support and involvement," said The Rev. Jerry Fuss, a retired pastor and a member of the Circle of Caring, a group consisting of individuals and representatives of agencies — such as Human Services Programs of Carroll County and the Department of Citizen Services — who aim to bring an end to homelessness in Carroll.

Young people who meet the criteria can call 410-857-2538 to set up an appointment to take the anonymous survey, or plan to attend one of two events: a free breakfast event 7:30 to 11 a.m. Friday, March 17, at On Our Own in Westminster, or an 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday, March 23, resource fair at Westminster's St. Paul's United Church of Christ. Raffle prizes will be available for those who attend the events, and everyone who participates in the survey will receive a backpack.

"That's filled with blankets, an umbrella, gloves, socks and toiletries," Kunz said. "If they call the number, then we will arrange for someone to meet them to do the interview in person and then we will give [the backpack] to them."

The Circle of Caring has long conducted the annual Point In Time homelessness count that is required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, but owing to the unique nature of youth homelessness, Kunz said it is believed the Point In Time count has missed or under-counted homeless young people. Three years ago, Youth REACH MD launched a demonstration project, counting homeless youth in seven Maryland counties, as an experiment in correcting that under-count. Carroll is one of 10 counties participating in the second pilot phase of the program, which Kunz said may one day evolve into a regular, statewide effort not unlike the Point In Time count.

"The methodology is a little different than with the Point In Time count. The main reason is because youth and young adults tend not to frequent the same places that older people who are homeless do," Kunz said. "They are less likely to go to shelters and less likely to use a lot of the services."

Kunz will conduct some of the surveys himself, and Carroll County Public Schools will also be assisting, but the main contingent on the ground, going to shelters and attending the two events will be four social work majors at McDaniel College.

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"I really am glad I have this opportunity to do this. It is really a cool way for me to learn and give back at the same time," said senior Chloe Gudmundsson.

"What we are looking to do is to find out first of all is how many people struggle with housing in their age group, and then also the kind of needs they have that are maybe not being met or could be met in a better way," Gudmundsson said. "It is anonymous: None of their identifying information will be shared. What we are looking for is how we can better serve that community."

And while there are incentives, such as the backpacks and free meal at the On Our Own event, Kunz said the reason why homeless youth and young adults should participate is to make sure people in charge of things know they are there.

"They are really helping us understand a little bit more about what's going on and making sure their voices count," he said.

410-857-3317

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Youth Count Survey

Opportunities to take part in the 2017 Youth Count Survey:

•Friday, March 17: 7:30-11 a.m. at On Our Own, 265 E Main St. #2, Westminster. Free breakfast and information about services.

•Thursday, March 23: 11 a.m.-1 p.m. at St. Paul's United Church of Christ, 17 Bond St., Westminster.

For more information, or to arrange to take the survey outside of the two events, call 410-857-2538 or go to www.facebook.com/YouthREACHCarrollCo.



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