Miami-Dade County

Miami-Dade volunteers survey kids on the street

Armed with some disquieting statistics about why kids end up on the streets, about 100 volunteers fanned out across Miami-Dade County on Thursday for a headcount of homeless 13 to 24-year-olds.

Called “iCount,’’ the Housing Survey for Youth Under 25 was a joint effort of the Miami-Dade Homeless Trust and the Miami Coalition for the Homeless, with support from organizations that deal with at-risk youth, including the Miami-Dade school system’s Homeless Education Program, Miami Bridge, Pridelines, The Alliance for GLBTQ Youth, Our Kids, Switchboard of Miami and Educate Tomorrow.

“Homeless youth become homeless adults,’’ said Homeless Trust Chairman Ron Book, who accompanied a team on Miami Beach.

He noted that 6,561 students in the Miami-Dade schools meet a broad definition of homelessness, some with their families but 302 “unaccompanied,’’ and that nationally, 40 percent of youngsters left home or got kicked out because of gender-identity issues.

Finding them early and figuring out what they need to get back on track means lightening the load on Jackson Memorial Hospital, publicly-run shelters and other taxpayer-funded institutions, said Book, and that makes it an issues that should concern all residents.

The population includes runaways, older teens who “age out’’ of foster care, and kids rejected by their families because of gender-identity issues.

This last group —gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and “questioning’’ youngsters — are especially vulnerable, said Carla Silva, Alliance for GLBTQ Youth executive director.

She said she has met children as young as 14 whose parents have banished them because they cannot conform to their community’s cultural or religious norms.

“They’re not safe in shelters’’ and often aren’t comfortable in foster homes, she said, so they can end up trading sex for shelter.

By late evening, nearly 100 surveys had been filled out. The survey asks questions like, “Have you ever been in foster care?’’ “If you are not living/staying with your parents/legal guardians, what are the reasons?’’ and “Where did you stay last night?’’ with choices including “abandoned building,’’ “jail/juvenile detention center,’’ “couch surfing,’’ and “street, car, beach or park.’’

The hope is that human-services agencies will use the data to launch or improve programs.

“We know they’re out there,’’ said Barbara Junge, a lawyer active with the Miami Coalition for the Homeless who helped organize the survey.

“A couple years ago, we held a ‘youth homelessness prevention initiaitve’ and one of the first things we realized is that we had to get the data. This population is really hard to count.

Book said the federal Housing and Urban Development department has encouraged the count because “they think we’re missing them...Youth are not likely to be in the same places as the regular homeless population.’’

A HUD-required annual “one point in time’’ survey of the total homeless population is planned for January.