FY 2014 Appropriations: RHYA Programs

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Federal Policy Brief | April 23, 2013

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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, about 150,000 single young adults ages 18 to 24 are homeless over the course of a year, along with many young women with children. A variety of assistance is needed for youth who are away from their homes for a significant period of time.  

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. Youth also become homeless when their families force them to leave due to pregnancy, drug or alcohol use, non-acceptance of sexual orientation or gender identity, or to reduce family size due to a lack of resources. 

Youth homelessness also reflects the deficits in public systems of care such as the child welfare, juvenile justice, and child mental health systems. Last year, nearly 20,000 youth emancipated from foster care,  and approximately 100,000 youth leave the juvenile justice system each year with little or no financial or housing resources.  

The Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (RHYA) programs provide youth with a stable foundation from which they can connect with services, reunify with their families, or develop the skills needed to live independently. RHYA grantees help youth to set and achieve education and employment goals.

RHYA programs work to address the needs of homeless youth. Unfortunately, there are limited resources to help youth reconnect with family or another caring adult, obtain safe emergency housing, or access longer-term assistance for housing and support services.  In fiscal year (FY) 2011, more than 8,000 youth were turned away from Transitional Living Programs,  which are projects that provide long-term residential services to homeless youth for 18 months.

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, 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. They are doing so by implementing new strategies and promising practices to reach and serve as many youth as possible to protect them from having to sleep on the streets.  In 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 FY 2013, RHYA programs were once again flat funded at $115 million. Following sequestration, the programs will receive a total of $109 million in FY 2013. The President’s Budget Proposal for FY 2014 recommends returning those funds to the program and providing $115 million for RHYA programs in FY 2014.

Recommendation
Congress should provide at least $115 million in funding for RHYA programs in FY 2014 to support existing programs and help communities better meet the needs of homeless and runaway youth.