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2007 Independent Living Project: Identifying and Understanding the Needs of Homeless Youth In Tompkins County, New York
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In conjunction with the Tompkins County Continuum of Care Committee (CoC), the county’s planning entity for homeless services, and in response to a community need to document the numbers of homeless youth, the 2007 Independent Living Survey (ILS) Project was conducted. The 2007 ILS, a community-based participatory research project, was a follow up to the initial similar survey completed in 2003, the results of which have had a significant impact on the community. The CoC asked us to repeat this effort in order to update the findings and assess change over time.
Young people approach the issue of shelter differently than adults, often preferring the uncertainties of their housing situations over the perceived loss of control associated with shelters and residential programs. As such, they are rarely captured by traditional measures used to assess the prevalence of homelessness, such as point-in-time counts and shelter statistics. Thus efforts to count or otherwise describe this population of youth that rely primarily upon these data sources vastly underestimate the true extent of the problem.

Both the 2003 and 2007 ILS projects used an innovative approach which engaged a group of formerly homeless youth as research partners who were able to reach those individuals not connected to programs or services, the invisible and underserved sector of the homeless youth population. Once again, the project was enormously successful: we reached 204 young people during a six week period of the winter (we estimate that this is almost one-third of the homeless youth population in the county).

The Independent Living Survey Project has been the catalyst for a rich public discussion about this sizeable population of youth in the community and has generated the public will to prioritize articulating a “continuum of care” that is focused exclusively on the needs of homeless youth. (Cornell University, Family Life Development Center)
Ithaca, NY
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A program of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Mental Health Services