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.
Historically, our effort as a nation to build an adequate response to youth homelessness has been hampered by limited data on the scale of the need and a dearth of knowledge on the most effective interventions to serve them. It has also been hampered by a lack of resources.
Put simply: we don’t know how many homeless youth are out there, and we don’t have the funding we need to help all of them.
Last week, the Senate T-HUD Appropriations Committee took a strong measure to overcome these challenges when it passed a bill that would deliver $20 million in funding to the Family Unification Program (FUP), which provides rental assistance and supportive services to youth who age out of foster care system, and extend the length of time a youth can receive rental assistance under the program, from 18 months to 36 months.
But that’s not all. The Senate bill would also provide $33 million for pilot initiatives in up to 10 communities that would demonstrate how a comprehensive approach to serving homeless youth, age 24 and under, can dramatically reduce youth homelessness.
What is a comprehensive approach to serving homeless youth? In our opinion, it's an approach that entails prevention assistance, family intervention services, crisis housing, and long-term housing and service programs such as transitional housing and rapid re-housing programs for youth who cannot quickly and safely return home.
The bill also includes language meant to improve our lack of data on homeless youth and the interventions that serve them.
- $2 million for an incidence and prevalence study on the characteristics and needs of homeless youth;
- $5 million for technical assistance that would, in part, improve data on homeless youth and program interventions; and
- A directive that HUD include data on homelessness from other federal agencies in its Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress. (While different federal agencies use different definitions of homelessness, inclusion of this data could provide a richer picture of the need for housing assistance by people who are living doubled up for economic reasons.)
The bill also includes language meant to address barriers for youth accessing homelessness assistance. The bill would
- Allow youth to access HUD homeless assistance programs without providing documentation from a third party that proves they have no safe place to stay
- Clarify that unaccompanied youth living in unsafe situations are eligible to be served by HUD homeless assistance programs; and
- Directs the HUD Secretary to ensure that the incentives HUD includes in Notices of Funding Availability (NOFA’s) fairly address the needs of all populations experiencing homelessness, including youth, families, veterans, and people experiencing homelessness.
Just as important for homeless youth is the overall allocation of funds for homeless assistance. This bill would increase the amount of homeless assistance communities receive from HUD to $2.235 billion. That’s less than the Alliance and our partners sought, but it represents an encouraging sign of commitment to ending homelessness from the Senate Appropriators.
Last week, the Senate Appropriations Committee took decisive action to ensure that ending youth homelessness is part of the overall national commitment to ending homelessness. Now comes the hard part. Will the provisions and increased funding remain intact as the bill moves forward?
The Alliance is grateful for the leadership demonstrated by the Senate Appropriations Committee. We look forward to working with all our partners (including you) to ensure that members of Congress understand that these funding levels and provisions are critical to advancing our common goal of ending homelessness.