A Review of Federal Programs Serving Homeless Youth

written by Sam Batko
November 22, 2011

Continuing our series on homeless youth, today we are going to take a look at the primary federal programs that currently serve this vulnerable population.

The only federal program that is exclusively focused on homeless youth is the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (RHYA) program administered by the Department of Health and Human Services.  The RHYA program is made up of three components:

  • Street Outreach consists of outreach workers connecting youth living on the street to housing programs, hygiene kits, food, and other necessities; Basic Centers provide short-term (up to 21 days) emergency housing for youth under the age of 18 while working on reunification with their family or finding an alternative long-term housing option; and
  • Transitional Living Programs (TLPs) provide up to 18 months of housing and supportive services youth ages 16 to 21, including youth who are pregnant and/or parenting.  TLPs manifest in a variety of models from congregate facilities to scattered site apartments with flexible rent assistance to host homes where youth live with a volunteer or subsidized family in the community.

While tens of thousands of youth are served annually by the RHYA programs, the need far outweighs the program’s capacity, which means that some homeless youth need to be served by McKinney-Vento homeless assistance programs administered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

For youth ages 18 and older, the McKinney Vento programs are the only federal funding source for emergency housing.  Moreover, many youth, particularly a large number of young parents, are served in transitional housing programs funded through the Continuum of Care grants process, which is also a part of the HUD McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance programs.

Another federal program that serves both unaccompanied homeless youth and homeless youth and children who are still attached to their families is the Department of Education’s Education for Homeless Children and Youth (EHCY) program.  This program provides legal protections for homeless children and youth to remain in their current school when they become homeless, providing stability that supports educational attainment. The EHCY program provides for transportation to and from said school for homeless students.  The program also funds dedicated staff for both local public school districts and in the state department of education so that schools can identify homeless children and youth and refer them and their families to community housing and service resources.

What we know is that, despite all of the great work all of these programs are doing, they do not have the capacity to identify and serve all the homeless youth in the country. We need to scale up our efforts prevent youth homelessness from occurring by supporting families as a whole, address youth homelessness when it occurs with rapid reconnection to family and effective housing options.  Only then will we be able to truly  end youth homelessness.

For more information on federal programs serving homeless youth and program models being implemented with these funds, visit www.endhomelessness.org.