Alliance Comments on RHYA Proposed Regulations

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Federal Policy Brief | June 24, 2014

Files: Alliance Comments on RHYA Proposed Regulations (PDF | 259 KB | 4 pages)

On June 13, the Alliance submitted comments on the proposed regulations by Administration for Children and Families (ACF) for the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (RHYA) programs. The comments strongly encouraged ACF to promote RHYA programs’ coordination with other systems of care by joining local Continuums of Care and including youth in local Point-in-Time (PIT) counts, among others.


Alliance Comments on RHYA Proposed Regulations

June 13, 2014

Associate Commissioner

Family and Youth Services Bureau

Administration for Children and Families

1250 Maryland Ave. SW

Washington, DC 20024

RE: 45 CFR 1351; RIN 0970-AC43

Dear Mr. Bentley:

The National Alliance to End Homelessness (the Alliance) applauds and supports the efforts of the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) in drafting and proposing significant modifications and additions to the current rules regulating the implementation of the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (RHYA), 42 U.S.C. 5701 et seq., as amended by the Reconnecting Homeless Youth Act of 2008 (Pub. L. 110-378). The Alliance is devoted to working with the Administration, Congress, and our local, state, and national partners to improve federal policies that will prevent and end homelessness. Specifically, one of the Alliance’s federal policy priorities is to increase the capacity of RHYA programs, and we believe that many of the currently proposed regulations constitute important progress in helping programs do just that. However, there are a few areas of concern within the proposed regulations. We request that ACF modify the currently proposed regulations to address these areas of concern, as discussed below, to ensure that the new regulations help RHYA programs to best serve all homeless and at-risk youth, especially those who have the most barriers to overcome.

Performance Standards § 1351.30 (b) and § 1351.31 (a)

We appreciate the emphasis on promoting positive outcomes for youth who have experienced a runaway or homeless episode. We believe that measuring performance, in conjunction with prior experience, is appropriate in determining grant awards. We are concerned, however, that the high standards of the proposed regulation may have the unintended effect of incentivizing providers to avoid targeting the highest risk youth who are likely to have the greatest difficulty achieving positive exits. We encourage ACF, therefore, to explore evaluating the performance of grantees in the future by focusing on the housing outcomes of youth, not just the exits, and to set different outcome standards for programs that purposefully target particularly vulnerable subsets of young people experiencing homelessness, including youth with previous involvement in the criminal justice system, youth with histories of trauma, and youth with mental illnesses or other disabilities, among others.

Definition of Safe and Appropriate Exits § 1351.1

We question whether it is appropriate to hold the same standards for Safe and Appropriate Exits for Basic Center Programs, which provide shelter stays of up to 21 days, as for Transitional Living Programs, which can accommodate youth for a period of up to 21 months. We recommend that the requirements for safe and appropriate exits be modified for the Basic Center program to reflect the practical realities of Basic Center providers and the youth they serve.

For example, a young person may exit a Basic Center to enter another shelter program that is more suitable for his or her needs. While moving from shelter to shelter can hardly be viewed as an ideal outcome, there is a severe shortage of shelter and transitional housing beds for youth. For some youth in Basic Centers, too, a move to another shelter may be necessary while awaiting an opening in a transitional living program. And for youth who have been separated from their families who are also experiencing homelessness, a move to a family shelter that allows all family members to be accommodated together can be a considered a positive (albeit in the short-term) outcome. Accordingly, we recommend that “another shelter” be removed from the proposed regulation of what is not a safe and appropriate exit from a Basic Center program.

For both the Basic Center and Transitional Living Program, we request that the definition of what is not a “safe and appropriate setting when exiting” in § 1351.1 be modified. As written, the proposed regulation encompasses housing situations that may be among the most exploitive, as well as housing situations that may be ideal for young people. The proposed regulation should allow more flexibility to address the practical realities of homeless and at-risk youth and the programs that serve them, while still ensuring that programs are strongly discouraged from allowing exits that are truly unsafe. Exits to “a private residence [other than family where] the youth is not paying rent” and “another residential program [where] the youth is not paying rent” may actually be safe and appropriate exits for many youth, and these living situations can help youth achieve the stated goals of the proposed regulations for both Basic Center and Transitional Living Programs.

For example, many lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning (LGBTQ) youth who are homeless no longer have relationships with family who have rejected them, but they may have stable, supportive relationships with other adults whom they consider “families of choice” and who may provide them with a home but not charge them rent. And many permanent supportive housing programs subsidize a client’s entire rent, but they can be ideal exits for some youth with many barriers to stability.

Ultimately, we suggest that ACF revisit this proposed regulation (§ 1351.1) and revise the definition of “safe and appropriate exit” to allow for the many possibilities for positive outcomes that are inherent in each of the proposed unsafe and inappropriate exits mentioned above while still requiring that programs monitor these exits when youth take them to ensure that they are indeed safe. Performance standards are necessary, but there should be different ones for each program type and for different kinds of clients served. The standards process should incentivize rather than deter helping higher-needs clients.

Aftercare § 1351.20 (g)

We appreciate the focus on aftercare and the desire to provide it to all youth who are engaged by RHYA programs. We believe that aftercare can be a valuable support for homeless or runaway youth who are transitioning back home to their families as well as for those who are transitioning to more independent living. This additional support may be critical to ensuring the ongoing stability of some young people.

We also recognize, however, that most RHYA programs have very limited capacity to provide services even to those young people who are in the midst of a runaway or homelessness crisis. Many programs, if not most, simply lack the resources to provide this level of follow-up services to all youth they encounter. Such a requirement may come at the expense of assistance for those the youth who are currently experiencing homelessness. Additionally, the proposed aftercare requirements may not be realistic for Street Outreach Programs or Basic Centers that often have very brief and transitory interactions with the youth they serve. Accordingly, we recommend that this proposed regulation be modified to allow aftercare services to be delivered when, and for whom, they are most appropriate and when programs have available funds to do so.

Furthermore, the requirement to deliver aftercare should be different for different RHYA programs, given their different levels of involvement in youths’ lives, and should allow for flexibility for RHYA programs to provide aftercare for particular youth, perhaps those who have completed programs or who were, at the very least, in the programs for a minimum number of days.

Finally, given the potential benefit of aftercare services for youth and to the extent that aftercare becomes a required component of RHYA programs, we recommend that ACF provide technical assistance to help providers identify other resources that can be used to support aftercare services for youth. This could include, for example, training on models of how the Promoting Safe and Stable Families (42 U.S.C. 629-629i) program can be used to support family counseling and other family preservation efforts for minors.

Coordination with Other Systems of Care § 1351.20 (a), (d), (f), and (i)

 We are pleased that ACF encourages RHYA grantees to coordinate with local Continuums of Care in the supplementary information (79 FR 21066, April 14, 2014) of the proposed regulations. Coordination can help ensure that young people experiencing homelessness are quickly connected to the resources that best meet their needs. ACF should explicitly encourage coordination with local Continuums of Care and incentivize it by including such coordination as a factor in the grant review process (at proposed regulation § 1351.18).

Additionally, ACF should consider incentivizing RHYA grantees’ coordination with mainstream systems of care that are intended to meet the needs of vulnerable and low-income individuals and families. Most importantly, the extension of foster care in many states has expanded the housing and service options for many young people under the age of 21 who may have previously accessed services from homeless youth providers. Helping to connect, or reconnect, youth to supports available in the broader community allows RHYA youth providers to focus their limited resources on those homeless youth who lack other options.

ACF should also consider requiring all grantees 1) to participate in local Point-in-Time (PIT) counts, biennial counts of homelessness required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and 2) to input data on RHYA youth served into the local Homelessness Management Information System (HMIS). The involvement of RHYA providers in conducting PIT counts assures a more accurate representation of the extent to which young people experience homelessness than we now have, and HMIS captures returns to homeless service programs after an exit to permanent housing, allowing communities to better monitor long-term outcomes. Both of these data sources are vital for developing better information about homeless youth and how best to serve them. The Alliance requests that ACF incentivize such data coordination in communities by including PIT counts and HMIS involvement as factors in the grant review process.

In closing, the Alliance believes that, with the modifications described above to ensure that RHYA programs are supported in serving the most vulnerable youth most effectively, the currently proposed regulations will encourage vital improvements in the programs that serve runaway, homeless, and at-risk youth. The Alliance commends ACF for undertaking this important project, and looks forward to partnering with ACF, other policymakers and organizations, providers, fundraisers, and youth themselves to collaborate on achieving the ultimate goal of ending youth homelessness and helping these young people make the transition into the healthy and stable adulthood they all deserve.

Respectfully,

The National Alliance to End Homelessness