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The Sad Secret: Rising Youth Homelessness Could Include the Kid Who Used to Live Next Door

2018 at the Bill Wilson Center

Just this past year, 2018, the Santa Clara, Bill Wilson Center (BWC), a full-service agency dedicated to helping homeless youth survive and prosper, served 6,232 people in counseling, housing, education, foster care, mental health, shelter and basic needs programs. Their Crisis Lines and Street Outreach programs connected with more than 30,500 people.

BWC’s attack on youth homelessness is helping lower the numbers found in their 2017 study, but unfortunately the problem still persists nationwide -- and will until communities, governments and corporations rise to the challenge.

The Staggering 2017 Findings

According to the National Network for Youth, jaw- dropping findings from Santa Clara County, late 2017, mirrored youth homeless numbers around the country.

Santa Clara’s Bill Wilson Center (BWC) 2017 study found:

  • 175% increase in youth homelessness in Santa Clara in only 2 years

  • 2500 + sleeping on the streets

  • 13,250 high school couch surfers

  • 17% of high school students from every neighborhood whether poor or affluent, including private and elite schools are unhoused

  • 44% of community college students indicated are homeless

Stunned by the horrendous findings, NPIQ joined forces with BWC with the mutual goal of inspiring people and their communities, government, and corporations to step up to the problem. Yet we all knew that, due to a mountain of misconceptions, having any influence on people to fight the problem, would be met with skepticism – or the “why bother? It doesn’t affect anyone I know,” attitude. After interviewing people from all walks of life as to what they knew – or thought they knew, our analysis found that the depth of factual misunderstanding was beyond what we’d imagined. Together, we prepared refutable evidence to overcome these falsities:

  • Misconception: Couch-surfing is not considered homelessness.

  • If you haven’t got a place to permanently put your toothbrush or can be asked to leave at any moment – you’re homeless.

  • Misconception: Schools know which, or how many, youth are homeless.

  • Homeless youth exist in all schools, even private schools. But students hide for fear of being sent to juvenile hall

  • Misconception: People would know if there were a lot of youth sleeping on the streets.

  • There are 2500 + youth sleeping on the streets each night, and many might be sleeping just a few blocks from your home.

  • Misconception: Homeless youth would be sent to foster care for help.

  • No, they wind up in juvenile hall for minor offenses or can be returned to dangerous family situations against their will. If unable to get off the street, they often end-up caught by human trafficking or drug rings.

  • Misconception: It’s not possible for our kids to actually know homeless kids in school and not tell us

  • A homeless youth may, in fact be your child’s best friend. Ask your child if they know any homeless kids – they probably do -- tell them it’s important to help.

  • Misconception: Homelessness is due to drug use. AND, to youth that run away because they’re mad at their parents or don’t want to live with rules

  • The causes of youth homelessness include:

  • the increasing wealth in Santa Clara leading to rising rents, which in-turn led to evictions thereby increasing youth homelessness among middle and lower-class families

  • the fact that so many families evict their own children, including large numbers of LGBTQ.

  • Misconception: If they’re in college they can live in the dorms

  • Almost half of community college students are homeless. Colleges are just now becoming aware, but even if dorms are available, they cost money.

Getting the Word out!

The strategy culminated in a crowded press conference led by government and BWC leaders who revealed the shocking findings. But, of course the highlight of the conference was a well-spoken, amazing BWC, homeless youth representative who would tell the real story focusing on the human element -- what youth homelessness is really like. She became the face for the crisis! She’d become homeless at age 15. She told her story about the horrors, hopelessness, and fear that these kids experience. She reiterated how BWC helped her to find housing, and graduate from college. She explained how this led to her present work as a housing counselor for homeless youth.

It’s not just about numbers. It’s about kids experiencing one of life’s most difficult traumas. The fact that these youths look, and are, just like us, elicits complete surprise. Only by understanding the emotional heart of homeless youth can minds be changed. Changed by learning about the real causes of homelessness; showing the horrors of homelessness if not reversed quickly; illuminating the fact that homeless youth may be the friend sitting next to their kids in school, or intermittently sleeping on their couch, or the kid who used to live next door, or the college student mowing their lawn.


  • The Summit’s Media Results landed a total reach of 17,963,547 without pass around. The word spread beyond Santa Clara and beyond California

  • Washington DC’s “National Network for Youth” incorporated the press conference, the study findings, and BWC’s methodology in the fight against national youth homelessness

  • BWC gained traction in working with Santa Clara government officials to develop solutions to end youth homelessness

BWC’s now perceived as a top player in the move to end youth homelessness by 2020. And, most importantly, they reached thousands of youth in 2018

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