MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Erika was lucky last night. The 19-year-old had the rare occasion to stay at a friend’s house.

Normally she’s “in between shelters, or up all night long.”

Erika has no home. She’s one of about 500 to 1,000 people under the age of 25 in Hennepin County who don’t have a place to live.

The numbers are approximate because no one knows just how many homeless youths there are across Minnesota.

“Homeless youth are quite hidden, and although we might expect 400 to 500 youth are homeless on any single night, we haven’t had a good way to measure that before,” said Lisa Thornquist of Hennepin County’s Office to End Homelessness.

Young people like Erika are exactly who Hennepin County wants to know more about with a new survey conducted on Thursday at youth outreach centers, schools, libraries and homeless camps.

She took the open-ended, five-minute survey at Minneapolis’ Youthlink. It had questions about why a young person left home, when did they last live with their parents, and where do they stay now.

“People think, ‘Why can’t they can just pull themselves up by their bootstraps? We pulled up our bootstraps,’” said Youthlink Executive Director Heather Huseby. “But they don’t have any bootstraps.”

The idea is to turn anecdotes into data that can be used for better services.

“If we find homeless kids haven’t finished high school, then we need to focus on getting them back into school,” said Thornquist. “If we find they’re all experiencing violence, we need to make sure we have more informed trauma services.”

The counters know they won’t reach everyone, but they hope with stories like Erika’s, they’ll get a better idea.

“You can’t handle half the stuff that’s going on out here,” Erika said.

The results of the surveys are due to the federal government in April.

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