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‘Couch-surfing’ homeless youth are focus of ‘Be Counted!’ effort

They’re young and homeless, but instead of living on the street or in a shelter, they’re jumping from couch to couch to couch.

And estimates suggest that there could be as many as 2,000 of these “couch-surfing” youth scattered across Erie County.

Now, for the first time, advocates for the homeless are trying to count the number of couch surfers to get a better handle on just how prevalent the problem is in Erie and Niagara counties.

“They’re so hard to find,” said Nadia S. Pizarro, chairwoman of the Western New York Coalition for the Homeless. “They’re on people’s couches, they’re living in people’s attics, people’s basements. They don’t even know they’re homeless.”

The coalition and the Homeless Alliance of Western New York are launching their “Be Counted! End Youth Homelessness” campaign across the region Friday and Saturday.

Outreach workers from partner agencies will canvass streets, malls, fast-food restaurants and parks looking to count and survey couch surfers under 24.

The agencies also are getting the word out through social media, where a confidential BeCountedWNY survey can be filled out on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. In an effort to coax young couch surfers to be counted, a “Be Counted” pizza party will be held from 1 to 7 p.m. Friday at 4 Cathedral Park in downtown Buffalo.

The coalition is applying for a federal grant and needs a more accurate “point in time” count of the region’s couch-surfing youth to be eligible for funding, said Pizarro, who is also the homeless services director for Lake Shore Behavioral Health.

Many couch surfers come from broken homes, have run away or may be dealing with substance-abuse problems, she said. Her group has found that one in every six couches that homeless youth end up on is a “dangerous place,” Pizarro said. “They’re in the middle of the night asked to do dangerous things or asked to leave.”

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