Youth Homelessness in Los Angeles Increasingly Visible The latest count showed a 64 percent increase in the number of 18- to 24-year-olds on the streets. Authorities are better at counting them but more foster kids are also aging out of the system.
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'Nowhere To Sleep': Los Angeles Sees Increase In Young Homeless

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'Nowhere To Sleep': Los Angeles Sees Increase In Young Homeless

'Nowhere To Sleep': Los Angeles Sees Increase In Young Homeless

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

One in 10 young adults will experience homelessness at some point during the year. That's from a new University of Chicago study. And the latest homeless count in Los Angeles showed a shocking increase in young people with nowhere to live. Anna Scott from member station KCRW reports that over the past year, the number of homeless young adults went up 64 percent.

ANNA SCOTT, BYLINE: The cafeteria at Santa Monica College is packed on this weekday afternoon. Twenty-one-year-old freshman Japheth Craig Dyer just grabbed lunch between classes.

JAPHETH CRAIG DYER: Thought I didn't need the class, but I did need the class. So...

SCOTT: He steps outside and walks to a concrete bench in the shade. He looks like a college kid who just pulled an all-nighter, but Dyer wasn't up late studying.

DYER: I didn't have nowhere to sleep last night. So, you know, kind of tired, but I'm not too worried about it. I'm just going to make sure I get some rest whenever I can.

SCOTT: He lived in foster care until he was 18, then stayed with his grandmother. But he says they didn't get along. About two years ago, he ended up on the street. Sometimes, Dyer stays with friends, but he spends a lot of nights aimlessly riding the bus.

DYER: It's really - hard is not even the word, man. It's really - it's demoralizing. It's really demoralizing for me.

SCOTT: He's not alone. He's part of a homeless population that's been invisible for a long time. This year's count found nearly 6,000 young people on the streets of Greater LA.

BILL BEDROSSIAN: The number that was captured this time is the number that we've been saying for the last five to six years.

SCOTT: Bill Bedrossian is CEO of Covenant House California, a nonprofit serving homeless 18- to 24-year-olds. He says one reason LA saw such a big jump in youth homelessness is that authorities got better at counting.

BEDROSSIAN: This last round, they really talked to young people about how, when and where to count them.

SCOTT: Meaning you don't necessarily spot people this age sleeping on sidewalks or in shelters. They often stay with friends or keep odd hours. Better counting could also explain why other places around the country have seen similar increases, like San Diego, Atlanta and Seattle. Still, the uptick isn't just due to better counting. It also reflects a real problem that's getting worse. Bedrossian says Covenant House has seen more former foster kids, like Japheth Craig Dyer, in recent years.

BEDROSSIAN: They're not in homes long enough to really develop family relationships. And when they turn 18, it's just like, OK, you can't live here anymore.

SCOTT: Bedrossian believes foster care often doesn't provide the stability people need to step into adulthood.

BEDROSSIAN: The design of the foster care system is to keep children safe. It's not to raise children.

SHEILA KUEHL: There is a transition age youth program in the foster care system now.

SCOTT: Sheila Kuehl is an LA County supervisor. She points out California does offer some services to young people for three years after leaving foster care, but it only goes so far because once somebody turns 18...

KUEHL: We can't tell you what to do. We can't order people to take you in because you're an adult.

SCOTT: Kuehl says new measures include more temporary shelters for young people and help for colleges to identify and track homeless students - students like Japheth Craig Dyer. He plans to become a nurse and, eventually, a nursing professor.

DYER: I know I am. I'm going to get off the streets. It might take however long it's taking, but it's coming, you know, gradually, slowly. I'm taking steppingstones.

SCOTT: Next step - finding a permanent place to sleep instead of crashing in a friend's van or napping on a bench between classes. He recently applied for room at a shelter just for college students but won't be able to move in until next year at the earliest. For NPR News, I'm Anna Scott in Los Angeles.

(SOUNDBITE OF TYCHO'S "SEE")

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