FY 2013 RHYA Appropriations: Serving LGBTQ Youth

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Federal Policy Brief | April 9, 2012

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Although data on the extent of youth homelessness is limited, past studies have estimated that there are approximately 1.68 million runaway or homeless youth under the age of 18 each year in the United States. Approximately 400,000 of these children remain outside their home for over a week, and 125,000 are homeless for over a month. Additionally, approximately 150,000 single young adults ages 18 to 24 are homeless over the course of a year, along with many young women with children. An estimated 20 percent of the overall runaway and homeless youth population identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning (LGBTQ). A variety of assistance is needed for youth who are away from their homes for a significant period of time, and those who identify as LGBTQ face unique challenges.

Youth become homeless for a variety of reasons, but the most common cause given is severe family conflict, including physical violence, sexual abuse, chronic neglect, or abandonment. LGBTQ youth often become homeless when their families are not accepting of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (RHYA) has three programs, which address the needs of homeless youth The street outreach program, which allows workers to go out into the community to provide services to youth; the basic center program, which is a drop-in center that provides basic center and counseling services to reunify youth with their families; and the transitional living program, which allows older youth to reside in housing for up to 18 months while obtaining services such as employment, education and mental health to set the youth up for self-sufficiency.

Unfortunately, resources for these programs have fallen dramatically short, leaving many youth subject to violence on the street, at-risk for drug and alcohol abuse, and the inability to reconnect with family. LGBTQ youth are particularly susceptible to sexual exploitation. In fiscal year (FY) 2010, a total of 4,464 youth were turned away from Basic Center Programs, which work to reunify youth with their family, provide shelter and other services such as counseling.

The 2008 reauthorization of RHYA programs required a study on the incidence and prevalence of youth homelessness that has not yet been conducted. Without national data on the extent of youth homelessness, including the number of LGBTQ youth, it is impossible to bring interventions to the scale needed to solve youth homelessness.

However, even with limited data, RHYA programs are becoming more efficient in using the programs’ limited capacities to better serve youth by implementing new strategies and promising practices, including those targeted specifically toward those identifying as LGBTQ, to reach and serve as many youth as possible to protect them from having to sleep on the streets. In fiscal year 2011 (FY 2011), the RHYA street outreach program made over 693,000 contacts with homeless youth. In 2010, Transitional Living Programs exceeded the federal target for safe program exits and Basic Center Programs exceeded the federal target for proportion of youth prevented from running away as a result of receiving preventive services.

Current Status In its FY 2013 Budget Proposal, the Administration proposed $115 million for RHYA programs – the same amount as in FY 2012. Recommendation Congress should provide $127 million in funding for RHYA programs in FY 2013 to support existing programs and help communities better meet the needs of homeless and runaway youth, including those who identify as LGBTQ.