UC Berkeley study finds homeless youth in need of support

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The UC Berkeley School of Public Health released a report this month revealing that providers for youth experiencing homelessness should be supported in order to adequately care for those who are unable to shelter in place.

The report, titled “On the COVID-19 Front Line and Hurting,” discusses the needs of providers for youth experiencing homelessness in the East Bay as well as of the youth themselves.

The report was the result of a collaboration between the UC Berkeley Catalyst Group to End Youth Homelessness, sponsored by Innovations for Youth, or i4Y, and the UC Berkeley School of Public Health COVID-19 Community Action Team. It was funded by the UC Berkeley Chancellor’s Community Partnership Fund, which helps fund projects between faculty members and the Berkeley community that will benefit its residents.

“Before COVID and the online world started, our research was focused on a needs assessment of youth experiencing homelessness in Berkeley,” said Anika Grover, a rising campus senior studying public health and a member of the team who put together the report.

In 2019, i4Y began working with the Berkeley community to conduct this assessment. Before it was able to begin collecting data, however, the Bay Area was put under a shelter-in-place order because of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result of this sudden change, the efforts were shifted to focus on providers who work with youth experiencing homelessness.

By “providers,” the report refers to those who work directly with youth experiencing homelessness, including community organizations, institutions and programs in Berkeley such as medical providers and shelters, according to Grover.

“Both in Alameda County and in Berkeley, youth homelessness is vastly, disproportionately, African American,” said Coco Auerswald, UC Berkeley professor and principal investigator of the study, who has been researching youth homelessness for almost 25 years. “And that’s in Berkeley, which is by no means a predominantly African American community.”

According to her research, Berkeley’s population is approximately 8% African American, yet 75% of minors who were getting services for homelessness in Berkeley were Black.

The report found that what is most needed for youth experiencing homelessness are clean and sanitary public restrooms, shower and laundry facilities, easy access to masks and packaged food, decriminalization of homelessness and access to information and services that can help them shelter in place the best they can.

It also found that, to support youth experiencing homelessness, the providers for the youth must also be given funding for disinfectant and hygienic supplies, personal protective equipment including masks, mental health support, hazard pay and on-demand COVID-19 testing for both the youth and providers, regardless of symptoms.

Auerswald suggested that community members could donate to programs including Covenant House, which is the main provider for youth experiencing homelessness in the East Bay, donate food and bring these issues to the attention of city officials.

“If people could push for public restrooms to be opened and maintained, it would be very important,” Auerswald said.

Contact Luis Cobian at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @luiscobian_dc.