NORWALK — A young woman is scheduled to check into the Open Door Shelter Monday, but it won’t her first time there.

“She’s someone who is coming in who was here as a child,” said Open Door Executive Director Jeannette Acher-Simons. “She’s on our list to come in on Monday. That’s a hard thing to see because now she’s a parent with her own children. We don’t want kids following in their parents footsteps and yet it happens often. It’s going to be interesting to see if we can end that cycle.”

It’s a cycle advocates are hoping to break as they begin targeting one of the more vulnerable, underserved and hard to locate homeless populations — youth.

But tracking down homeless youth — defined as those under 25 — can be a difficult task, even though homeless counts are conducted annually by surveying those living in shelters and on the streets.

“People realized we were under counting because youth are more hidden,” Archer-Simons said. “They’re moving from place to place to place, and sometimes they’re afraid of coming forward because they think they’ll have to switch schools or they’ll get put in a home ... we’re more aware of where the youth are staying and what the issues are because we’re having this conversation and looking for the youth and working together to identify where they’re staying and what the issues are.”

In its first statewide youth count in 2015, the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness identified 3,000 homeless and “unstably housed” youth. A second, more comprehensive youth count was held this January, and those results were given to a demographer who estimated 4,396 young people were homeless or in unstable housing at that time.

In Norwalk, an estimated 124 young people are homeless or unstably housed. Other area towns are estimated to have fewer than five each.

Instead of using shelters, young people are likely to stay with friends, to “couch surf,” or to sleep in cars, abandoned buildings or the open air. They don’t use social services as much as older homeless adults.

The state has a goal of ending homelessness for anyone under 25 years old by 2020. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development started requiring states to collect data about youth homelessness this year.

During the statewide youth count in January, volunteers — including youth who had been homeless in the past — surveyed nearly 2,300 people across the state and identified 439 youth who were homeless or unstably housed. The majority were 18 to 24 years old, and the average age was 20.

Fifty-two percent of those counted were male and 43 percent female. Forty-three percent reported involvement with the state Department of Children and Families, 23 percent identified as LGBTQIA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual) and 23 percent indicated they were parenting or pregnant.

When asked where they slept on the night of Jan. 24, the majority said they had stayed with a friend.

Eighteen percent said someone had encouraged, pressured or forced them to exchange sexual acts for money, drugs, food, a place to stay, clothing or protection.

Youth-specific services lacking

Like many cities in Connecticut, Norwalk has no services specifically for homeless youth, Archer-Simons said.

Young people need different resources to be successful than other single adults, she added, “the first being that many youth don’t need a permanent housing intervention. They need a stable place to live as they are in school, beginning work, or determining their future, but will, in many cases, only need that intervention for a short period.”

But, she said Fairfield County is at the forefront of collective impact work to bring resources together to assist homeless youth populations.

“We actually have a reputation nationwide as being far ahead of the rest of the country,” Archer-Simons said. “Fairfield county is begin used as a role model ... we’re finding ways to break through system challenges. We understand what each group brings to the table, and support the data they collect. I think it really has allowed us to work more effectively together. We all need to realize we’re not experts at everything so we need to ask for help.”

Connecticut hopes to bolster its youth-specific homelessness resources using new state-funded programs and a $6.6 million grant from the federal government.

The state Department of Housing is accepting applications for the two state-funded programs — one that provides money for supportive housing for homeless youth and another that helps pay for improvements to existing homeless shelters, with a priority for renovations that will better accommodate young adults.

The federal grant will be used to create new housing with support service programs to serve youth experiencing homelessness.

Connecticut was one of only 10 areas in the nation selected by HUD to receive this award from more than 130 applicants. The state received the largest allocation of any grantee under this program.

Dan Arsenault, spokesman for the state Department of Housing, said state officials are creating a detailed plan for the money, which the state expects to submit to HUD this fall.

Arsenault said the goal is to be certified by the federal government as having “effectively ended” youth homelessness. Achieving this goal does not mean youth in the state will never again experience homelessness, he said, but the state has built a system to ensure episodes of youth homelessness are brief, rare and non-recurring.

Arsenault said several initiatives have been undertaken since 2011 to prevent and end homelessness.

In February 2016, Connecticut was the second state to receive certification to have effectively ended veteran homelessness, and in December, the state met its own goal of matching all chronically homeless people to housing.

“What was once only a dream — ending homelessness across all populations — is now within our grasp,” Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said in a statement. “We know that with smart investments and providing needed services we can accomplish this goal.

“By focusing on youth homelessness in particular, we are protecting those most vulnerable to abuse and neglect,” he said. “Assisting with access to safe and consistent housing for children isn’t just smart policy — it is the morally correct action to take.”