Homeless youth population in Montgomery County on the riseOfficials in Montgomery County believe the number of homeless youth in the area is increasing.

Montgomery County Youth Services helped 160 homeless children through its Community Youth Outreach program in August—up from an average of 66 per month in 2015—and that number has remained steady this fall.

Although the nonprofit helps as many as possible, it is difficult to pinpoint the county’s exact population of homeless youth, CEO John Bracken said. 

“People ask me, ‘How many homeless kids are there in Montgomery County?,’” Bracken said. “The answer is, ‘I don’t know.’ The reason for that is most young people, particularly under the age of 18, don’t want people to know they’re homeless because they’re afraid they’ll end up being in Child Protective Services.”

Pinpointing the problem

Most youth who become homeless are members of a dysfunctional family, Bracken said. This can include a family member struggling with substance abuse, or the child may struggle with substance abuse.

In some cases, children have been kicked out of their homes after coming out as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. In other cases, young people can become homeless by aging out of the foster care system, Bracken said.

“What we discovered in our work on the street outreach end, we were finding kids that were homeless—some were over 18, [and] some were under 18,” Bracken said. “Some had aged out of foster care, and then at 18, the foster parent has no obligation to keep them. Some will keep them, but most of them say, ‘You’re on your own.’”

Each year, 200-300 children in the Greater Houston area age out of foster care. Angel Reach, a nonprofit organization in Montgomery County, is able to help about half of these individuals with housing and additional services, such as tending to mental health issues, finding employment or education opportunities, helping with debt and legal issues and providing a reliable vehicle, co-founder Sandra Carpenter said.

“Most youth are referred from CPS or [Court Appointed Special Advocates] and other agencies that serve homeless youth,” Carpenter said.

Homeless youth population in Montgomery County on the riseConroe ISD resources

Another resource for homeless youth who may not be enrolled in school is the McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Act, which ensures immediate enrollment in public school and educational stability for homeless children and youth, Conroe ISD’s homeless liaison Lynda Gowin said. With this status, they are enrolled for free and reduced meals.

“I think the most important thing that we try to help with is that these kids’ families are just kind of all out of whack and unstable,” Gowin said.

In CISD, a total of 237 homeless students have been accounted for districtwide. Not only does this include students who are without shelter, but it also includes students who are couch-surfing or living with other relatives or friends who are not their legal guardians.

“The majority of the time, there is somewhere that they’re sleeping, whether it’s in a hotel or something,” Gowin said. “Not too often are they actually on a bench in the park or anything like that. A large percentage of our kids are with family, so their parents might be with them.”

CISD’s Community Outreach Dropout Prevention and Health Services department is made up of personnel who reach out to homeless children and their families in an attempt to determine the best path for each child.

“The bottom line is, if you don’t have a safety net, or somebody looking for you or somebody saying, ‘Let’s go back to school,’ that is what we do,” said Rodrigo Chaves, CISD community outreach and dropout prevention director.   

Ways to know if a child might be homeless include: if they are not bathed, wearing dirty clothes, hungry, having attendance issues or sleeping in class, Gowin said.

“If you see kids that are not in school because they’re homeless or don’t have stable housing, let them know that they can come to school,” Gowin said.