Each year at this time, shelters and programs serving the homeless throughout the U.S. conduct a head count in an attempt to learn the depth of homelessness in their communities. But this year, organizers in Hennepin County will be going a step farther -- not only counting all of the homeless but asking those 25 and younger how and why they ended up in shelters or living on the streets.

Shelters have a pretty good picture of the single adults who are homeless -- and their needs -- but not of the unaccompanied youth they also serve, said Lisa Thornquist of the Minneapolis/ Hennepin County Office to End Homelessness. So they'll be asking them about any disabilities or mental illnesses, whether they have been abused, whether they have spent time in foster care, and whether they have been compelled to commit crimes or have even been "trading sex for survival," she said.

"All of this will help us better under the experiences the youth have and help us to identify what are the best services to offer them," Thornquist said.

Many of the youth will already be parents themselves. The count and voluntary surveys will take place in shelters but also in locations that serve the homeless in order to gain responses from the 50 or so youth who are "unsheltered" and living on the streets.

Hennepin County is one of nine sites across the country in which the surveys of homeless youth are being conducted for the first time. Officials from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the federal agency that orchestrates the homelessness count, will be on hand to observe.

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