San Francisco’s homeless teenagers — a notoriously difficult group to track — appear to be growing in ranks.
In the past year, Larkin Street Youth Services, which helps homeless people ages 12 to 24, has seen a 25 percent increase in the number of clients using its emergency services, which include drop-in centers, according to the organization’s executive director, Sheryn Adams.
The demand for counseling has also shot up 27 percent from 2008 to 2009.
"We’re seeing more youth and providing more intensive services to our youth," Adams said. "Almost all of the youth we serve come from families or communities where there was violence or chaos, domestic violence, or parental substance abuse or mental illness."
Homeless advocates and city officials say it’s difficult to determine if the numbers add up to more kids on the streets, or simply more kids taking advantage of Larkin Street Youth Services’ health clinic and emergency shelter.
Many teens that couch-surf or stay in overcrowded single-room-occupancy hotels don’t identify as homeless. Others are transients. San Francisco’s 2009 homeless count, which was released in January, tallied less than 2 percent of The City’s unsheltered street population as youths up to 24 years old. However, the report acknowledged that young people are almost certainly undercounted, saying, "Homeless youth tend to keep to themselves for safety and other reasons."
Dariush Keyhan, director of homeless policy for the Mayor’s Office, said the occupancy in The City’s shelter for those 18 to 25 years old is running at about 90 percent capacity on average and has gone up only slightly. He chalks up the small rise to the seasonal influx of young people traveling to the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood during the warmer months who sometimes camp in Golden Gate Park.
With its ability to house 270 a month, Larkin Street Youth Services provides nearly three-quarters of the beds for homeless youths in San Francisco. But Adams is worried about running out of room if the trend continues.
That would be a shame, she said, because 80 percent of young people Larkin Street Youth Services transitions to more permanent housing stay off the street for good.
"As the number of kids on the street increases, then the difference between need and capacity just grows. More kids will be in unsafe situations. The things we have all worked very hard to prevent in The City will continue to happen," Adams said.
Larkin Street Youth Services provides nearly three-quarters of the beds for homeless youths in The City.
3,569: Youths served during 2007-08 fiscal year
3,621: Youths served during 2008-09 fiscal year:
25 percent: Increase in utilization of emergency services, which includes drop-in centers, from fiscal year 2007-08 to fiscal year 2008-09
27 percent: Increase in demand for individual services, including counseling and one-on-one interactions with staff, at center from 2008 to 2009
Source: Larkin Street Youth Services