Youth Count Toolkit


We know that all youth count, but are we counting all youth?

Want to plan your own youth count but you’re not sure where to start? We’ve got you covered. The youth count toolkit provides community members with tips and best practices for counting youth experiencing homelessness. Based on current research and successful counts in other communities, the toolkit covers everything from marketing your youth count to recruiting community partners to providing a sample survey.

Four Steps.

Getting your own youth count started can be challenging and confusing, so we’ve drafted up a list of quick tips to get you going in the right direction.

Brand It

Make your count engaging – brand the youth count to specifically target youth. Keep in mind that youth often don’t identify with the label “homeless.”

TIP: Ask youth who have experience with design software develop a poster to advertise your count.

Promote It

Make sure you promote your count in the spaces that youth utilize, both online and physical. Schedule social media posts two weeks prior to your magnet event/community count. Creating a specific outreach strategy that includes a unique hashtag and social media campaign for your youth count allows it to be promoted and shared widely in the networks that are already being utilized by youth. Make sure you include youth in the process. Here are some examples: #icountMIA #countmeinNYC #youthcountSEA

TIP: Make sure the young people you are working with share the information via their online profiles, they will be able to reach more youth.

Collaborate on It

Collaborating with other community stakeholders (local parks, libraries, skate parks, coffee shops, schools, etc.) on the youth count will help expand your count to include youth who do not seek services, youth who are couch surfing, or those doubled up. If other organizations are not willing to participate in the count, they may be willing to help promote it or refer young people to your youth count.

TIP: For a complete list of possible community partners and how they may be able to contribute click here.

Do It!

Now you’re all set to go.

TIP: Make sure to check out the Magnet Event Checklist for a complete list of things needed to conduct a successful youth magnet event.

Helpful Tips.

Collaborate with Youth-Serving Organizations

Collaboration is key when planning your youth count. Collaborating with youth serving organizations in the planning and execution stages of the youth count can provide valuable insights and help with the following:

Locating youth experiencing homelessness.

Promoting the count within the youth community.

Creating an environment where youth feel welcome.

Recruiting volunteers to help with the count.

Expanding the count sites (ie: a table set up in a local library with volunteers surveying youth).

Invite Community Partners

Community partners can be beneficial when reaching out to youth experiencing homelessness by helping promote your event and by conducting actual surveys depending on their capacity. These partners may include:

Faith Based Partners

Local faith based organizations can offer both outreach strategies, as well as provide another location to administer the survey. They can also identify volunteers for any part of the planning/execution process of your count as well as organize food/clothing/toiletry donations.


Engaging with the homeless liaison in your local school districts can provide data to include in your count for youth under 18 experiencing homelessness who are enrolled in schools. ** This is especially effective in rural areas that have a limited number of youth-serving organizations.

Colleges & Universities

Colleges and Universities can be strategic partners when planning your count. They can provide experts in data collection through various departments and more volunteer power via students. Universities and professors can also provide access to the Institutional Review Board (IRB) which is essential if you want the results of your youth count to be published and disseminated.


Libraries have been beneficial in providing outreach to youth, as young people often visit local libraries for free internet access as well as other services. Libraries can also assist in providing another location to administer surveys during the actual count.

Police Departments

Local police departments have been helpful during youth counts by providing youth with information regarding the survey or magnet events in the area. They may also be able to identify areas where youth tend to congregate or hang out for canvassing purposes.

Parks & Recreation

Parks can be engaged in similar ways as local libraries. Staff can assist with outreach to youth experiencing homelessness who may congregate in their parks. They can also provide an additional survey location.

24-Hour Establishments

Staff at 24-hour diners or restaurants can help with outreach and possibly provide an additional survey location, especially if youth are known to hang out there.

**Remember to think outside the box. Connecting with agencies that are not a part of the homeless service network but are working with youth can only help the cause (boys and girls clubs, health providers, workforce development organizations, gang intervention agencies, bars, and trafficking organizations).

Invite Youth to Planning

Youth can provide guidance about how to locate, identify, and engage other youth. Some communities consider creating a youth advisory board, made up of youth who formerly experienced homelessness, to oversee all aspects of their count. They can help develop and administer feedback on outreach strategies/material and locate places where youth hang out or congregate and/or conduct training about engaging youth for the volunteers. Some communities include youth in the actual canvassing and surveying process giving youth experiencing homelessness an option to be surveyed by one of their peers.

Location, Location, Location!

If you are survey canvassing make sure volunteers are in places where youth congregate. It can also be helpful to engage the community partners involved to target areas where youth hang out and incorporate that into your canvassing plan. If you’re planning a magnet event to draw youth to your count, make sure it’s centrally located and youth have access to transportation to be able to attend your event. Also check out our magnet event checklist for a complete list of things to consider when planning a magnet event.

Think About Safety

The way you think about safety and the way youth experiencing homelessness think about safety may vary. For youth experiencing homelessness, traveling to locations where security guards or police officers keep watch may be a significant deterrent to participation. This may be especially true for LGBTQ youth, trafficked youth, and undocumented youth – all subpopulations that we need to ensure are represented in our youth count.

Magnet Events.

Current best practices suggest that planning a magnet event is an effective method for attracting and engaging youth and young adults. Here is a quick checklist to consider when planning your magnet event:

Outreach Strategy

  • Graphic with branding
  • Posters
  • Social media posts
  • Drop-in centers
  • Youth organizations your count.


  • Staff/volunteers (trained to administer the survey)
  • Location
  • Date/time
  • Policies and procedures
  • Transportation to/from the event

During Event

  • Food/drink
  • Surveys (either hard copies with pens or a means to access an electronic survey)
  • Activities such as movies, video games, talent show, etc.


  • Cots/sleeping bags for all night events
  • Clothing donations
  • Phone chargers/power strips to charge phones

Survey & Training Tool.

Engaging youth can be tricky and we understand that not everyone is comfortable surveying youth experiencing homelessness, especially when there are sensitive questions around sexual orientation, gender identity, and experiences with various systems that may have been traumatic for youth. We have developed a one page sample survey to get you started with suggested language around the various data points you can collect. Along with the sample survey, we have included a training tool that explains each question and gives suggestions about how to ask certain questions. We have also provided you with training videos around asking questions about sexual orientation and gender identity to use on your own or in a volunteer training situation.

Asking About Gender Identity

Asking About Sexual Orientation

Point-In-Time Counts.

This is a list of frequently asked questions we sometimes hear from community members and local continuum of care agencies. If you are trying to coordinate your youth count with the local point-in-time effort use these FAQs as a guide.

What is a Point-in-Time Count?

The Point-in-Time (PIT) count is a count of sheltered and unsheltered homeless persons on a single night in January. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requires that Continuums of Care (CoCs) conduct an annual count of homeless persons who are sheltered in emergency shelter, transitional housing, and safe havens on a single night. The HUD PIT count is the main data source used for measuring progress in meeting the goals in Opening Doors: The Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness, and collects important data on not only the general population of people experiencing homelessness, but also subpopulations, including veterans, families, chronically homeless individuals, and YOUTH.

We don’t have any unaccompanied youth experiencing homelessness in this community, so why should we count them?

Youth experiencing homelessness may not be visible, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t there. Many are good at hiding the fact that they are experiencing homelessness, and may not self-identify as homeless. They often couch surf, sleep in their cars, and may not access shelters. Because youth work really hard to blend in with other youth their age and congregate in “nontraditional” homeless hang out spots specific to youth, you may not know that you have a population of unaccompanied youth.

Why is counting youth important?

The PIT count will provide necessary data for planning and developing community interventions to meet the goal of preventing and ending homelessness in families, children and youth by the year 2020 (established by the federal Opening Doors strategy). It is important to establish strategies that are specifically effective for youth and distinguishes them from veterans and adults experiencing homelessness, as these populations have different needs and the strategies have different outcomes.

Why do we have to create a separate PIT Count for youth? Can’t we just include a check box for unaccompanied youth into our existing PIT Count survey?

Youth experiencing homelessness are not the same as adults experiencing homelessness. The method used to count adults will not accurately capture the population of unaccompanied youth. Creating and branding a youth-focused point in time count will allow communities to focus a youth-centered lens on the experience of homelessness.

Youth experiencing homelessness do not fall under the HUD definition of homelessness. How do I justify the resources and time it would take to count youth if they are not eligible for COC and emergency shelter grant (ESG) funding?

**HUD has released a paper, Determining Homeless Status of Youth, to address this very question. HUD has applied their definition of homelessness to include youth in 4 various categories/situations, (1) literal homelessness, (2) imminent risk of homelessness, (3) homeless under other statutes, and (4) fleeing domestic violence. This paper also gives examples of each, including situations where youth in which forced out of their house because of their sexual orientation, youth who are exchanging sex for a place to stay, and youth who are in dangerous and abusive situations.

Each year, HUD defines the requirements for the PIT Counts, including the data elements that need to be collected. How can we meet all of these requirements while catering the PIT Count specifically for youth?

Homeless youth service providers and researchers are currently in the process of developing best practice models for counting youth experiencing homelessness. Different communities have been trying out different methods for counting youth, while incorporating data elements that will benefit their specific communities. For example, in Seattle, the PIT counts were an essential part of their Comprehensive Plan to Prevent and End Youth and Young Adult Homelessness in King County by 2020. Make sure you are including all of the HUD-required data elements so you can coordinate with the local CoC and give them the data they may need but it is also beneficial to include data elements for the community to better understand the issue of youth homelessness within that community (i.e. school enrollment, foster care involvement, and pregnant/parenting status).

Which community partners should we include in our youth Point-in-Time Count and in what capacity?

It really all depends on what is best for your specific community. Las Vegas partnered with the local school system PIT count and were able to administer their survey in the schools. In some communities, libraries are a key partner in ensuring youth have the space and means to complete an online survey. In other communities, these partnerships consist of popular hangout spots promoting magnet events in the area and faith-based organizations donating incentives and providing resources. These partnerships can also lead into and foster sustaining relationships when developing a comprehensive community plan to prevent and end youth homelessness, so make sure to think outside the box. For a complete list of partners to include, check out the Tip Sheet.

Where can I find more from HUD?

HUD is constantly updating their resources, please visit the HUD Exchange website for more up-to-date information.

Effective Tips for Engaging Your Local Continuums of Care

Counting youth experiencing homelessness is a group effort. When working with your local CoC, it’s important to keep a few things in mind to help your PIT count run smoothly and successfully. Remember to:

Have conversations about how youth fall under the HUD definition of homelessness.

You may need to be the educator on this one because new guidance is coming from HUD each year. The most recent guidance from HUD, Determining Homeless Status of Youth, can be helpful in these situations.

Accept that your count probably won’t be perfect the first time around.

We are all still learning the best ways to count youth and to include them in the PIT count. In all likelihood, your numbers won’t be perfect and your process won’t be painless. You’re bound to hit some road bumps along the way. This is to be expected. Instead of focusing on what went wrong, use it as a learning experience for what to do better!

Seek additional advice!

Jennifer Ho, Senior Advisor for Housing and Services at HUD, spoke at our 40 to None Summit about how to engage your local CoC. Here’s what she had to say:

HUD Expert Jennifer Ho on Engaging Continuums of Care

[Network Live] 2017 PIT Counts