05.06.08

The Introduction Of The “Runaway And Homeless Youth Protection Act

Leahy Introduces Runaway And Homeless Youth Reauthorization

WASHINGTON (Tuesday, May 6, 2008) – Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy today introduced legislation to reauthorize the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (RHYA), a critical Federal grant program established to help states and local communities address the needs of runaway and homeless youths in both urban and rural areas.

One week after the Senate Judiciary Committee, which Leahy chairs, heard testimony from expert witnesses about the benefits of the RHYA, Leahy introduced the Runaway and Homeless Youth Protection Act, a bill to reauthorize and strengthen programs and activities established by the RHYA.  Originally authorized in 1974, the RHYA established a competitive Federal grant program for state programs to provide crisis intervention, transitional living, and street outreach programs.  Leahy’s reauthorization legislation would double the all-state minimum grant from $100,000 to $200,000.  The Vermont Coalition of Runaway and Homeless Youth Programs coordinates grants under the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act to Vermont organizations.

Leahy has been a longtime champion of the RHYA, and worked to reauthorize the Act in 1998 and again in 2003.

“The Runaway and Homeless Youth Act is the way in which the Federal government helps communities across the country protect some of our most vulnerable children,” said Leahy. “These topics are difficult but deserve our attention.  Finding solutions to this growing problem is an effort we can all support.  I urge all Senators to join us in support of its passage.”

Some studies estimate that there are up to three million homeless youths across the country.  The Runaway and Homeless Youth Act establishes four critical grant programs: the Basic Center Program (BCP) provides short-term emergency shelter and family reunification services; the Transitional Living Program provides longer-term residential services and life skills, education and employment support to older homeless youth; the Street Outreach Program provides crisis intervention and services referrals to runaway and homeless youth at street locations and drop-in center sites; and National Support Activities, including a national runaway youth crisis line.

 

The Reconnecting Homeless and Youth Act will:

  • Reauthorize and increase authorization levels for programs under the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act
  • Double the RHYA Basic Center Program allotments for small states from $100,000 to $200,000
  • Permit the Department of Health and Human Services, which administers grants under the RHYA, to redistribute unexpended funds from other BCP applicants for a one-year grant period, after which the amount would be returned to the BCP general pool for reallocation.
  • Requires the Department of Health and Human Services to develop every five years a national estimate of the prevalence of homeless youth
  • Allows extensions in length of stay in basic centers from 14 days to up to 21 days, and in transitional living projects from 18 months to 21 months

 

Leahy invited representatives from Spectrum Youth and Family Services, a Burlington, Vermont, non-profit organization, to testify before the Judiciary Committee last week about Spectrum’s efforts to help homeless and runaway youths in Vermont.  During the April 29 hearing, he Committee also heard from youth advocate and two-time Oscar nominee Djimon Hounsou about the benefits of the RHYA, as well as a representative from the National Network for Youth.

 

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Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.),

Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee,

On The Introduction Of The “Runaway And Homeless Youth Protection Act"

May 6, 2008

 

Today, I am pleased to introduce the bipartisan Runaway and Homeless Youth Protection Act of 2008 along with Senator Specter, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee.  This legislation would reauthorize and improve the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (RHYA).  The programs authorized during the past 30 years by the RHYA have consistently proven critical to protecting and giving hope to our nation’s runaway and homeless youth. 

 

The prevalence of homelessness among young people in America is shockingly high.  The problem is not limited to large cities.  Its impact is felt strongly in smaller communities and rural areas as well.  It affects our young people directly and reverberates throughout our families and communities.  That this problem continues in the richest country in the world means that we need to redouble our commitment and our efforts to safeguard our nation’s youth.  We need to support the dedicated people in communities across the country who work to address these problems every day.

 

On April 29, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing to focus the Senate’s attention on these problems and to identify and develop solutions to protect runaway and homeless youth.  It was the first Senate hearing on these matters in more than a decade.  We heard from a distinguished panel of witnesses, some of whom spoke firsthand about the significant challenges that young people face when they have nowhere to go. 

 

Our witnesses demonstrated that young people can overcome harrowing obstacles and create new opportunities when given the chance.  One witness went from living as a homeless youth in his teens to earning two Oscar nominations as a distinguished actor.  Another witness is working with homeless youth at the same Vermont organization that enabled him to stop living on the streets and is on his way to great things.  Our witness panel gave useful and insightful suggestions on how to improve the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act to make it more effective.  We have included many of these recommendations in our bill.

 

The Justice Department estimated that 1.7 million young people either ran away from home or were thrown out of their homes in 1999. Another study suggested a number closer to 2.8 million in 2002.  Whether the true number is one million or five million, young people become homeless for a number of reasons, ranging from abandonment to running away from an abusive home to having no place to go after being released from state care.  An estimated 40 to 60 percent of homeless children are expected to experience physical abuse, and 17 to 35 percent experience sexual abuse while on the street, according to a report by the Department of Health and Human Services.  Homeless youth are also at greater risk of mental health problems.  While many receive vital services in their communities, others remain a hidden population, on the streets of our big cities and in rural areas like Vermont.

 

The Runaway and Homeless Youth Act is the way in which the Federal Government helps communities across the country protect some of our most vulnerable children. It was first passed the year I was elected to the Senate.  We have reauthorized it several times since then, and working with Senator Specter and Senators on both sides of the aisle, I hope that we will do so again this year. While some have tried to end these programs, a bipartisan coalition has worked to preserve and continue the good that is accomplished through them.  I remember Senator Specter’s efforts early in his Senate career to preserve these programs when he chaired the Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Juvenile Justice.  The Runaway and Homeless Youth Act and the programs it funds provide a safety net that helps give young people a chance to build lives for themselves, and helps reunite youngsters with their families.  Given the increasingly difficult economic conditions being experienced by so many families around the country, it is time to recommit ourselves to these principles and programs.

 

Under the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act, every State receives a Basic Center grant to provide housing and crisis services for runaway and homeless youth and their families. Community-based groups around the country can also apply for funding through the Transitional Living Program and the Sexual Abuse Prevention/Street Outreach grant program. The transitional living program grants are used to provide longer-term housing to homeless youth between the ages of 16 and 21, and to help them become self-sufficient. The outreach grants are used to target youth susceptible to engaging in high-risk behaviors while living on the street.

Our bill makes improvements to the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act reauthorizations of past years.  It doubles funding for states by instituting a minimum of $200,000, which will allow states to better meet the diverse needs of their communities.  This bill also requires the Department of Health and Human Services to develop performance standards for grantees.  Providing program guidelines would level the playing field for bidders, ensure consistency among providers, and increase the effectiveness of the services under the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act.  In addition, our legislation develops an incidence study to better estimate the number of runaway and homeless youth and to identify trends.  The incidence study would provide more accurate estimates of the runaway and homeless youth population and would help lawmakers make better policy decisions and allow communities to provide better outreach.

In my home state of Vermont, the Vermont Coalition for Runaway and Homeless Youth, the New England Network for Child, Youth, and Family Services, and Spectrum Youth and Family Services in Burlington all receive grants under these programs and have provided excellent services.  In one recent year, the street outreach programs in Vermont served nearly 10,000 young people. 

The overwhelming need for services is not limited to any one state or community.  Many transitional living programs are forced to turn away young people seeking shelter.  We heard testimony of an exemplary program within blocks of our nation’s Capitol that has a waiting list as long as a year.  This is unacceptable.  The needs in our communities are real, and reauthorizing the law will allow these programs to expand their enormously important work.

These topics are difficult but deserve our attention.  Finding solutions to this growing problem is an effort we can all support.  I thank Senator Specter for joining with me and urge all Senators to support prompt passage of this bill.

I ask unanimous consent that the full bill text be printed in the Record. 

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