Survey to count Billings' homeless youth wraps up

2013-07-18T18:00:00Z 2014-01-16T16:07:09Z Survey to count Billings' homeless youth wraps upBy ZACH BENOIT zbenoit@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

A survey to get a better idea of how many homeless youth live in Billings has wrapped up, and a handful of Americorps VISTA members and volunteers are poring over and analyzing the data.

The Americorps members — Joshua Downes, Chelsia Davis and Emily Aerts — teamed up with Tumbleweed, a local nonprofit that works with homeless youth, and nearly 30 volunteers from the community to conduct the three-day survey, which ended July 14.

“I think it went really well,” Aerst said. “It’s the first one that’s been done, so I don’t think we really knew what to expect, but it went well. Our volunteers were really passionate.”

Organizers say the survey, called the Youth Count! Point-In-Time survey, is the first of its kind in Billings. Sheri Boelter, Tumbleweed’s executive director, said the homeless youth population in Billings is vastly undercounted because previous surveys are too narrow and are conducted in January, when it can be tough to track down the youth.

Downes said that, while numbers aren’t available, they expect the survey to show that there are far more homeless youth in Billings than previously believed, increasing the number from fewer than 10 to dozens or even several hundred.

The group also learned a few things that they didn’t expect to come up during the survey. First, Boelter came upon a camp of several dozen homeless people in the Billings area that was previously undocumented, Downes said.

Second, he was surprised at how open many of the youth were in discussing their aspirations. One of the goals of the survey is to go beyond just counting and move into identifying how the youth live and what services they need.

“Probably 99 percent of the survey respondents had high aspirations, even though they’re in tough situations,” he said. “I talked to a 10-year-old who planned to become either a diabetes doctor or a football player. It was great to see that they still have those high hopes.”

The Americorps members and Tumbleweed staff split Billings into five zones where homeless youth might be found and they then had volunteers canvass those areas, especially in predesignated hotspots.

Davis said they’re hoping to have some of the results available for the public by the end of August, while a full breakdown and analysis could take longer.

“It’s going to be a couple of months before it’s really clear on all of the numbers and the questions,” she said. “We’ll have a little more detail, a slight breakdown on the numbers, ready sooner though.”

For more information on the survey, contact Tumbleweed at 259-2558.

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