On Tuesday, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) introduced a bill to reauthorize the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (RHYA). The program provides three different grants to community-based organizations to reach out to homeless youth on the streets, provide crisis intervention housing, basic life necessities, family interventions and longer-term housing options when necessary. These programs include the Basic Center Programs, Transitional Living Programs (including Maternity Group Homes), and Street Outreach Programs.
The legislation is called The Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act (S.262). Just the day before (see previous article) the House of Representatives introduced and passed their version, the Enhancing Services for Runaway and Homeless Victims of Youth Trafficking Act of 2015 (H.R.468). Supporters of the Senate bill have indicated some reservations regarding the House version. “While H.R. 468 is a good start, the legislation stops short of making the types of updates that are needed to really move things forward to protect our young people,” Darla Bardine, Executive Director of the National Network for Youth, said going onto say, “If we as a nation are going to effectively prevent human trafficking, we need all of the updates in the Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act to pass through both the Senate and the House.”
Unlike the House bill, the Senate bill includes provisions for collecting data on victims of human trafficking, adds a nondiscrimination clause that brings the Act into accordance with the federal regulations that most runaway and homeless youth programs currently follow, and increases the allowable length of stay for the Basic center programs from 21 to 30 days to give young people and their families more time to access reunification services when needed.
The Senate bill also extends family intervention and reunification services to Transitional Living Programs when it is safe and appropriate for the youth. Family intervention, counseling and reunification will include all individuals that a youth considers to be family, which will likely have a significant impact on youth who identify as LGBTQ. In addition, the reauthorization updates the provisions for all three of the major programs that award grants to community providers: The national support activities and rural demonstration grants have remained an important part of how this legislation cares for homeless youth.
The authorization remains the same in the Senate bill at $165 million per year but designates an additional two million dollars for the National Study of the Prevalence Needs and Characteristics of Homeless Youth in America.
As part of their announcement in support of the legislation the National Network for Youth pointed out that research has shown that runaway and homeless youth in America are at heightened risk of both sex and labor trafficking and that school-age children not living with their parents (homeless youth) are at the greatest risk for coerced labor exploitation, domestic servitude, or commercial sexual exploitation; runaway and homeless youth are more likely to fall victim to sexual exploitation and 28% of youth living on the street trade sex for basic needs such as food or shelter; and that homeless youth are often targeted by labor traffickers because they lack access to resources they need to live, such as shelter, food, and personal connections—yet the promises of paid employment are not realized.