How big is the problem of homelessness among Miami-Dade County’s youth and young adults?
To answer that question, the Miami Coalition for the Homeless and the Homeless Trust created iCount Miami in early 2013– a coalition of 15 partner organizations who will work together to conduct Miami-Dade County’s first homeless youth count.
Together, they will hit the streets on Jan. 23 with volunteers to survey homeless youth ages 13 to 24 in various locations throughout Miami-Dade. Bobbie Ibarra, executive director of the Miami Coalition for the Homeless, says any individual who does not have a secure, stable roof over their head qualifies as homeless.
For college students, homelessness could manifest itself as “couch surfing,” which refers to individuals who bounce around from place to place, usually among relatives or friends, until they are asked to leave. Students living in student housing and have nowhere to go at the end of the semester may also be considered homeless.
“We’ve realized that there is a portion of the homeless population that is sorely underrepresented, and that’s homeless youth,” Ibarra said. “Part of the reason for that is that they remain invisible. They don’t want people to know that they’re homeless or they don’t think their living situation meets the definition.”
The mission of iCount Miami is two-fold: to get a sense of how widespread the problem of youth homelessness is in Miami-Dade County and to identify how best to meet the needs and provide necessary services for this portion of the community.
FIU has also gotten involved in the effort with Fostering Panther Pride and the Multicultural Programs and Services (MPAS) LGBTQA Initiatives working in conjunction with Miami Coalition for the Homeless. Together, they are spreading the word on campus and offering assistance to students who may find themselves in a unstable living situation.
One of the biggest challenges that organizers have encountered over the last year has been finding out where these homeless children are. Part of the process has been gaining cooperation from schools, churches, foster care and juvenile justice programs, and other organizations that can help identify homeless youth.
Volunteers for iCount Miami will be in the Graham Center on Jan. 17, 21 and 22 raising awareness, looking for volunteers to help with the count, and recommending students encourage classmates who are homeless to take the survey.
“In order to find them, you have to work with people who have a trusting relationship with them and build that network,” Ibarra said. “We’ve had the opportunity to bring organizations and systems together that normally don’t work together. We’re working together to accomplish more with less, in a sense, and prevent homelessness.”