Atlanta Homeless Youth Count Just One Part Of GSU Initiative

Those conducting Atlanta's homeless youth count wear T-shirts to clearly identify them with Georgia State University. Survey takers must ask intimate questions, which is why they try to build rapport and come across as non-threatening. One volunteer says it's often hard to hear youths' stories about how they became homeless.
Credit Jim Burress / WABE
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Teams of Georgia State University students, researchers and volunteers are spending the summer on Atlanta’s streets, trying to get a grasp on just how serious youth homelessness is here.

And while the goal is to come up with an accurate number, researchers understand solving the problem will take more than just compiling raw statistics on homeless youth.

That means getting personal.  

“Which of the following best describes your sexual orientation,” asks GSU graduate student Brittany Taylor of a man in his early 20s. Although a motel room on Fulton Industrial Boulevard provides a roof over his head, he still fits the technical definition of homelessness because he doesn’t have a permanent home.

(GSU’s surveys are anonymous, so the man doesn’t give his name.)  

“Gay,” he answers after first saying he’s straight.

According to a 2012 UCLA Williams Institute study, 40 percent of those surveyed who are young and homeless identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. The young man says his sexuality isn’t a factor in his lack of permanent housing. Instead, he says, he just needed to see if he could survive on his own.

While sexual orientation and gender identity are common reasons youths find themselves without a home, there are many others. Georgia State volunteers conducting the survey say they often hear how the death of a parent, the need to escape an abusive situation, and drug and alcohol addiction force them to the streets.

For other youths, they say, low-wage jobs mean they can’t afford stable housing.  

Homeless youths who take the survey receive a $10 gift card, which is a relative windfall for many. 

The count wraps up this week. GSU plans to publish its findings in late November.