Transitional-Aged Youth Retrospective Study


  • Sacramento Steps Forward, California

Focus Area

  • Housing

“Our theory of change is that young people come to LSS after experiencing the trauma of homelessness, and through housing and individualized supportive services they develop their own sense of who they are and where they're going, and the skills to explore their passions.”

- Dr. Carol Roberts, CEO, Lutheran Social Services (LSS) of Northern California

The Issue

Challenges, hardships, and obstacles are universal. But even though everyone faces difficulties, not everyone has been given the same resources to support themselves in difficult situations. 

Take youth and young adults in foster care as an example. These young people, after a childhood of constant change and without the support and guidance of close family, often struggle with the demands of adulthood. They are more likely to have mental health challenges and to experience homelessness once they’ve aged out of foster care. And without a steady lifetime example of healthy family functioning, their own children are also more likely to end up in foster care. As a society, we know very little about how to counteract this cycle of struggle. 

What we do know is that experiencing homelessness as a young person often leads to chronic homelessness and lifelong challenges. Half of all homeless adults were homeless as youth. And while communities across the country must answer the call to care for their homeless neighbors, California feels this most urgently. The Golden State has one of the largest populations of homeless people in the country, and about one-third of all homeless youth live in the state. 

Youth exiting foster care face an especially difficult challenge, suddenly and completely self-reliant as they stand on the precipice of adulthood and striking out on their own. They often enter the adult world without financial and emotional support, a well-rounded education, credit or rental history, or the professional training and experience crucial for landing a job that will cover all of their new expenses. From there, it’s all too easy to fall into a pattern of homelessness and related troubles, like involvement with the criminal justice system, substance abuse, and poor mental health. 

It’s clear that older foster youth have complex and urgent needs. They also have great potential to flourish. But despite their vulnerability and promise, little research has been done to help us understand how to best support foster youth on the cusp of adulthood. How can we make sure they avoid ever falling into a cycle of homelessness and poverty? Safe and stable housing is a crucial first step, but only part of the puzzle. Programs that combine housing and supportive services may be the key to helping these young people gain the educational, employment, and life skills they need to enter adulthood with confidence and a fair shot at success.

The Intervention

The Data

Sacramento Steps Forward (SSF) of Northern California is the lead agency of the Sacramento Continuum of Care (CoC). In its leading role for the CoC, SSF receives and manages federal, state, and local funds for shelter and housing programs and coordinates services for people experiencing homelessness. These services include street outreach and referrals to shelters or transitional housing.

Sacramento Steps Forward shared data with LEO on the vulnerable population of Transition Aged Youth (TAY) that they have served over the past seven years. This data includes the scope of services received by these individuals. 

Research Question

What is the scope of homelessness among Transitional Aged Youth in California, relative to the rest of the country and other ages? We are interested in studying the effect of services on homeless youth on their potential return to homelessness.

Intended Outcomes

This study will share findings with academic and service audiences on the scope of TAY homelessness in Sacramento, California.

Research Study Design

The study of Transitional-Aged Youth in Sacramento is a retrospective analysis. The retrospective analysis examines data from Transition-Aged Youth that have interacted with SSF over the past seven years. SSF will use insights from this analysis to further refine its agency design to maximize positive impacts and knowledge share across the programs it manages.

Learn With Us