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House Approves Measure on Runaway and Homeless Youth

On June 9, the House approved, by voice vote, the Reconnecting Homeless Youth Act (H.R. 5524) to reauthorize the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a similar version of the bill on May 22 (see The Source, 5/23/08).

H.R. 5524 would authorize $150 million for FY2009 and such sums as necessary for FY2010-2013. It would authorize $150,000 per state for housing and crisis services for runaway and homeless youth. The bill also would provide $3 million annually for FY2009-2013 to the secretary of Health and Human Services to conduct a national homeless youth awareness campaign. The National Awareness Campaign would aim to inform the public “of the issues facing runaway and homeless youth, the resources available to these youth, and the tools available for the prevention of youth runaway and homeless situations.” The campaign also would encourage “parents, guardians, educators, health care professionals, social service professionals, law enforcement officials, and other community members to seek to prevent runaway youth and youth homelessness by assisting youth in averting or resolving runaway and homeless situations.”

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY), said, “This legislation will reauthorize the sole source of federal funding for at least one million young people who find themselves homeless or unaccompanied each year. Some of those children are born homeless, but most run away to escape mental, emotional, or physical abuse. More than a third of them are victims of sexual abuse in the home. Although they escape terrible conditions at home, for most, what is waiting for them on the street is no better. These youth are raped or assaulted at rates two to three times the national average, they are seven more times likely to contract HIV, and a third of them attempt suicide. For these young people, hope is a distant concept and the future is little more than a dead end. The situation is bleak, but the solutions are within our grasp…The Reconnecting Homeless Youth Act will refocus our resources and give America a real shot at eradicating youth homelessness forever.”

Rep. Judy Biggert (R-IL) said, “To meet the needs of these children, the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act authorizes three major programs: The Basic Center Program [BCP], the Transitional Living Program [TLP], and the Street Outreach Program. The Basic Center Program…provides youth with emergency short-term shelter, food, clothing, counseling, and referrals for health care. The BCP seeks to reunite young people with their families whenever possible or to locate appropriate alternative placements. In 2006, BCP grantees served more than 48,000 youth. The Transitional Living Program… assists older homeless youth in developing skills and resources to promote their independence and prevent future dependency on social services…The Street Outreach Program provides emergency shelter and related services to young people who have been, or are at the risk of being, sexually abused or exploited. The goal of these efforts is to inform young people about services that can help them find suitable housing and address the problems that lead them to be on the street…While the prevalence of homelessness is difficult to measure, it is estimated that about five to nearly eight percent of youth experience homelessness each year. More can and must be done.”

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