Homeless study reveals more than 250 youths living on the street

Tricounty census took snapshot of homeless people between 13-24 years old

By Mark Lehman - Reporter

ORLANDO, Fla. - Dozens of community leaders came together Tuesday morning to discuss the results of a study focusing on the issue of homeless youth.

The Tri-County Youth Count was a first-of-its-kind census in Central Florida.

More than 100 community volunteers spread out across Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties last October to take a snapshot of how many young people live on the streets on any given night.

As vice chairman of the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness, David Swanson helped organize the study.

"I think it shows the problem is much more significant than we realized," Swanson said.

The results of the study showed 268 people from 13 to 24 years old were living on the streets. Organizers surveyed 155 people to give a better picture of the demographics of the homeless youth.

"If we're going to serve them and really get them out of that situation, we've got to know the numbers and we've got to come up with a strategy," Swanson said.

Of those surveyed, the study showed 35 percent identified themselves as LGBTQ, compared to 7 percent of the general population.

"They have been essentially disowned by their families," Swanson said. "There are further issues that we need to be contending with as a culture."

At Tuesday's meeting, community members talked about the underlying causes of youth homelessness, including poverty, education and lack of affordable housing.

According to the study, 104 beds were identified in homeless shelters, but only 10 serve youth under the age of 18.

Natalie Villard was once one of those homeless youth.  After receiving help from the Covenant House of Central Florida, she worked to help other young people in need.

"Sometimes it takes someone who understands exactly where you're coming from to help you realize where you are," Villard said.

Representatives from several organizations said they'd use the data from the study as a call to action in tackling the problem of homelessness among teens and 20-year-olds. Which is something many said can only come with the community's support.

"This report will bring light to an issue which has for too long not been adequately understood," Central Florida Commission on Homelessness CEO Shelley Lauten said.  "I know our community will do what is necessary to surround these young people with the care they need at this critical juncture in their lives."

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