What will it take to end youth and family homelessness in Santa Clara County?
It’s impossible to answer the question without local facts. We hope our colleagues and friends here in Silicon Valley appreciate that we’re borrowing from the great business thinker Peter Drucker to help find the answer. Because, as Drucker said, you can’t manage what you don’t measure.
Every year Bill Wilson Center serves more than 3,000 children, youth and families, with comprehensive services including adoption and foster care, family reunification, temporary to permanent housing, independent living skills training and help with employment and education services. We do whatever it takes to keep youth and families out of homelessness.
We also have many community partners who share our vision, including Alum Rock Counseling Center and Community Solutions.
This week we released the most comprehensive study ever completed in Santa Clara County on the impact of “couch surfing” by high school and community college students as an aspect of homelessness. The numbers are alarming. Survey results indicated that 17 percent of local high school students are hopping from couch to couch instead of sleeping at home.
What this means is that 13,250 high school students in Santa Clara County are couch surfing every night of the week. Lengths of stay vary from weeks to months.
The teen sleepover is a rite of passage most parents accept without question. But when does the sleepover cross over to couch surfing and homelessness? A simple way to know: Do they have a key to the house?
Our research extended from high school to community college students. The local community college numbers are jaw-dropping: 44 percent of the community college students ages 18-25 said they had been homeless at some point or knew a classmate who had been homeless during the previous six months.
We now have some key facts to determine what it would take to end youth and family homelessness in this county: 17,637 homeless young adults are struggling to attend high school or community college while they’re sleeping on couches here in Silicon Valley every single night of the school year.
With numbers at this scale and scope, couch surfing is unquestionably a fast-growing element of homelessness. Our research added texture to the January 2017 Point-in-Time Homeless Count for Santa Clara County, which found 2,530 homeless youth ages 13-24 living on the streets or in shelters – a 175 percent increase from 2015.
We’ve measured it. Now we need to manage it.
During October, the Bill Wilson Center wants to reach out to 1,000 homeless youth sleeping on couches in our community to start a conversation and link our services to them. We cannot do this without the help of parents, peers, and friends.
Studies show that homeless youth and couch surfers wish more adults would reach out to them to talk and offer help. Kids want to talk to adults. We have a way to help start the conversation. Check out our website, www.ACouchIsNotAHome.org for tips on how to start a conversation or for referrals for help.
If you have a young person couch surfing in your home, take the time to talk with them, listen to them and maybe find out the real reason they are staying in your house. It’s probably not because of your great pancake breakfast.
No young person should be living this way. We hope we can all agree that a couch is not a home."