Today Senators Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., introduced a bill reauthorizing the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (RHYA), which expired on Sept. 30, 2013. (Senators Cory Booker, D-NJ, and Kelly Ayotte, R-NH, also signed on to the bill as original co-sponsors.)
Ever since it was signed into law in 1974, the RHYA has been the only federal law exclusively dedicated to homeless youth, ensuring essential services like street outreach, basic shelter, and transitional living programs. The new reauthorization bill, the Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act, goes even further by increasing protection for youth who are victims of human trafficking and sexual exploitation. It increases support for family intervention, and prohibits discrimination against homeless youth based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
The Alliance supports reauthorization of RHYA and the improvement of its programs so it can more effectively and efficiently serve homeless youth, particularly the most vulnerable youth who are on the streets and unsheltered every night.
Although data on the extent of youth homelessness is limited, past studies have estimated that approximately 1.68 million youth under the age of 18 experience an overnight runaway or homeless episode each year in the U.S. While most of them return home quickly, the Alliance estimates that each year approximately 550,000 unaccompanied, single youth and young adults up to age 24 experience a homelessness episode of longer than one week. Approximately 380,000 of those youth are under the age of 18.
Historically, programs that serve runaway and homeless youth have had very limited resources to draw on. For example, in fiscal year (FY) 2014, more than 4,000 youth were turned away from transitional living programs that provide long-term residential services to homeless youth for up to 18 months. It is this lack of resources to help homeless youth that makes reauthorization so important.
The new bill would:
- Authorize $140 million per year for basic center, transitional living, and national hotline and technical assistance funding over the next five years, including designating an additional $2 million per year for national incidence and prevalence studies of homeless youth; and
- Authorize $25 million per year for sexual abuse prevention (street outreach) over the next five years.
Even with their limited resources, RHYA programs already provide youth with the stable foundation they need to reunite with their families, connect with mainstream services, or simply develop the skills they need to live independently. And these programs are doing so by implementing new strategies to serve as many youth as possible. In fiscal year (FY) 2014, the RHYA street outreach program made more than 460,000 contacts with homeless youth, while transitional living programs reported 88 percent safe and appropriate exits.
Obviously, youth homelessness remains a massive problem in our society, so we still have a lot of work ahead of us. But the reauthorization of the RHYA is a crucial step toward that goal. We applaud Senators Collins and Leahy for introducing and Senators Booker and Ayotte for co-sponsoring the reauthorization bill. Contact your Senators now to either thank them for co-sponsoring or to encourage them to co-sponsor this vital piece of legislation.