FY 2015 Appropriations: RHYA Programs

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Federal Policy Brief | April 23, 2013

Files: FY 2015 Appropriations: Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (PDF | 210 KB | 1 page)

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. However, only approximately 50,000 youth per year are served by targeted homeless youth programs. Every year, thousands of youth who seek shelter are turned away.

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. Homeless youth and young adults are at great risk for physical abuse, sexual exploitation, mental health disabilities, substance dependency, and death. Mechanisms should be put in place to ensure that public systems of care are held responsible for preventing youth from becoming homeless upon exit from their purview. 

A variety of assistance is needed for youth who are away from their homes for a significant period of time. The Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (RHYA) programs work to address the needs of homeless youth by providing them with a stable foundation from which they can connect with services, rejoin their families, or develop the skills needed to live independently. RHYA grantees also help youth to set and achieve education and employment goals.

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) 2013, more than 5,058 youth were turned away from Transitional Living Programs,  which are projects that provide long-term residential services to homeless youth for 18 months. In the same fiscal year, more than 2,152 youth were turned away from Basic Centers,  which are designed to provide short-term emergency housing and counseling and referrals to reunify youth with family or find an another long-term housing option.

The 2008 reauthorization of RHYA programs required a study on the incidence and prevalence of youth homelessness that has not yet been conducted. This study is particularly important, because we need accurate national data on the extent of youth homelessness and what specific needs this population has in order to effectively target services to bring interventions to the scales necessary to end homelessness for this group.

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 2013, the RHYA street outreach program made approximately 723,265 contacts with homeless youth.  Furthermore, approximately 87 percent of youth leaving Transitional Living Programs and 90 percent of youth leaving Basic Center programs make safe program exits, meaning they return to their families or another stable living situation.

Current Status
Runaway and Homeless Youth Act programs received a total of $114 million in FY 2014. The President’s Budget Proposal for FY 2015 recommends providing $114 million for RHYA programs again in FY 2015 as well as an additional $2 million for an incidence and prevalence study.

Recommendation
Congress should provide at least $140 million in funding for RHYA programs in FY 2015 to support existing programs and help communities better meet the needs of homeless and runaway youth, for instance through helping to close the gap between the number of homeless youth and number of available RHYA beds for them. Congress should also fund an incidence and prevalence study of homeless youth, as requested by the President in his Budget Proposal.