For too long, the needs of most homeless youth have gone unaddressed. While communities around the country run many good programs to help them, these programs are typically filled to capacity and serve only a fraction of youth in need.
That means that tonight, many homeless youth, including youth under the age of 18, will have no safe place to stay. Instead, they will camp out in abandoned buildings, in the woods, in garages, or spend the night in homes where they are in danger of abuse or sexual exploitation. Or they may just walk the streets all night.
Originally from North Carolina, my passion for working in the nonprofit sector brought me to the D.C. Metro Area where I now live, work, and study as an M.P.A. Student at George Mason University.
Working as the Community Relations Manager of a direct-service nonprofit in North Carolina first showed me how to translate my personal commitment to serving others into a fulfilling professional career. Studying Nonprofit Management and working as the Development Assistant for George Mason’s School of Policy, Government, and International Affairs has since left no doubt in my mind that my career lies in fundraising and development.
Homelessness costs taxpayers a lot of money. Take, for example, the infamous case of Murray Barr, aka “Million Dollar Murray,” a chronically homeless man in Reno, Nevada who accrued more than a million dollars in emergency room, substance abuse treatment, police, jail, ambulance, shelter and other costs.
Despite all these costly interventions, Barr ultimately died homeless on the streets. His tragic case highlights the need for a cost-effective solution to chronic homelessness. Cost studies demonstrate that Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) is that solution.
Earlier this year, the Urban Institute released a report that examines the experiences of young Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) youth who have engaged in “survival sex” in New York City. Survival sex is a term frequently used to describe the exchange of sexual acts for money or goods that people require to live (e.g. food and shelter)
Of all the findings in this compelling report, “Surviving the Streets of New York,” one in particular should give homeless service providers pause: “Many [youth] … credited the instability and rules associated with emergency housing with driving them back to the street [and sexual exploitation].”
Whether you work with unaccompanied youth, families, or single adults experiencing homelessness, I want you to stop and think about the proposed Homeless Children and Youth Act, S.256 and its implications. Frankly it is one of those pieces of legislation that sound awesome until you pull back the curtain. It is not mom and apple pie. There are implications to this that we need to dissect and consider from a funding, operational, and policy perspective. It is possible to think critically about the bill and still be supportive of ending homelessness amongst youth, as well as ending homelessness for children and their families. And yes, there are implications to communities and service providers that customarily do not work with youth or families. S.256 impacts all people experiencing homelessness, funders, service providers, and Continua of Care.
Here are the highlights of S.256.