On Wednesday May 4, the National Network for Youth and the True Colors Fund sponsored a Capitol Hill briefing in support of a reauthorization of the Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act. The panel of speakers included Darla Bardine, Executive Director, National Network for Youth, Dr. Resa Matthew, Family and Youth Services Bureau, (FYSB) HHS, Kristopher Sharpe, Congressional Fellow, LGBT Equity Caucus, Gregory Lewis, Executive Director, True Colors Fund, and Silas Follendorf, National Youth Advisor, National Network for Youth.

The House-based briefing focused on the House legislation, HR1779. There is also a comparable Senate version, S 262. The legislation would reauthorize an important program created in 1974 that attempts to assist homeless and runaway youth. As part of the briefing Dr. Matthew described the recent survey conducted by FYSB. The results provide an over view of the grim circumstances for homeless and runaway youth:

• The average youth spent nearly two years living on the streets.
• More than 60 percent were raped, beaten up, robbed, or otherwise assaulted.
• Nearly 30 percent of participants identified as gay, lesbian or bisexual, and nearly 7 percent identified as transgender.
• Half of youth had been in foster care
• Youth with a foster care history had been homeless for much longer (27.5 months on average) compared to youth who had never been in foster care (19.3 months, on average).

More than half of homeless youth become homeless for the first time because they are asked to leave home by a parent or caregiver, and more than half say they have tried to stay at a shelter but it was full. The population was 54 percent male and 45 percent female. African Americans represented 41 percent of the population with 33 percent white and another 25 percent Hispanic. A little more than 3 percent were Native American.

Youth that had been in foster care were more likely to have experienced a violent episode versus those that had not been in foster care. Former foster youth had a higher likelihood of being in a mental health facility (47 percent vs 21 percent), were more likely to have spent time in a drug or alcohol treatment facility (17 percent vs 9 percent) but there was no difference between the two subpopulations on whether or not they had traded sex for food, money, drugs or shelter.

Panelist Kristopher Sharp, a Congressional fellow working for Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) described in detail his experiences first in foster care, aging out of that system and living as a homeless youth. He talked about the difficulty of being a gay young person and his inability to find a stable place to live. He talked about how he was rescued and helped by a Texas state program that provides a free college education and provided a small stipend that gave him an avenue to successful transition. He also highlighted the challenges that a friend of his who was almost identical in some circumstances who has continued to experience homelessness and other problems into adulthood.
Several panelists focused on the role of gender identification and the difficulties faced by LGBTQ youth. There was agreement about the need to help programs that interact with the LGBTQ youth. Many workers may not know how to reach out to young people in these instances.
Silas Follendorf talked about her work in Seattle Washington and said that the three key points for homeless youth include: a place to stay, an adult who cares, and third, job-training and education related to their needs. She pointed out that it is difficult to find a job if you don’t have an address and the jobs that don’t present these challenges are undesirable sex trafficking and trade.
It is hoped that since both the Senate bill and House bills that have bipartisan support it will eventually be negotiated into a final deal at some point this year.