For over 45 years, the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (RHYA) has provided the foundation for American communities’ responses to youth and young adult homelessness.
The Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act (RHYTPA) needs to be reintroduced in the 117th Congress. RHYTPA would enact critical changes to plug youth into networks of support that power their growth and success.
In addition, RHYTPA needs to add a prevention services program to more intensively focus on providing prevention services to young people at risk of experiencing any form of homelessness.
4.2 MILLION YOUTH IN AMERICA ARE AT RISK OF HUMAN TRAFFICKING
In a typical year, 4.2 million young people experience homelessness in America.
Youth experiencing homelessness are trafficked at high rates – unsheltered youth are more likely to fall victim to sex trafficking. According to a 2016 report from the Family & Youth Services Bureau (FYSB), 24% of youth living on the streets exchanged sex for money, and 27.5% did so for a place to stay. Covenant House International found that nearly one-in-five youth had been a victim of human trafficking – inclusive of sex and labor trafficking or both.
Youth victims of abuse are more likely to exchange sex for the necessities they lack (e.g., shelter or food) – FYSB’s 2016 report noted that 23.5% of respondents had been abused before leaving home. A Las Vegas youth shelter found that 71% of domestic minor sex trafficking survivors had been sexually abused.
Providing housing, basic life needs, and services prevents our young people from being exploited and/or trafficked for sex and/or labor. RHYA providers have been at the forefront of this work in American communities for over four decades.
SERVING YOUNG PEOPLE PREVENTS CHRONIC ADULT HOMELESSNESS
Research has found that homelessness among young people is a fluid experience. Many young people experience different types of homelessness, from couch-surfing to sleeping on the streets or in a shelter. American youth experiencing homelessness are a shifting population of young people who use temporary situations to get by when they cannot stay in a home of their own.
Investing in a young person’s life will enable them to avoid chronic homelessness, intergenerational cycles of poverty, and pervasive instances of trauma.
Additional research from cities has shown that a high proportion of their chronically homeless adult population first experienced homelessness as a young person under 25. The City of Seattle found 43% of their unsheltered homeless population first experienced homelessness as a minor (18%) or as a young adult between 18 and 24 (25%).
RHYA PROGRAMS ARE AN EFFECTIVE ALTERNATIVE TO SYSTEMS-INVOLVEMENT
RHYA programs prevent trafficking, identify survivors, and provide housing and services to runaway, homeless, and disconnected youth. RHYA has been a necessary bridge for our youth, but more recently, these vital programs have worked to meet the unprecedented need for safe and stable housing and supportive services for youth experiencing homelessness and trafficking. The COVID-19 pandemic significantly increased child and youth homelessness due to high unemployment, unstable living conditions, and job insecurity. Some RHYA providers have seen their waitlists double.
RHYA programs are effective:
- According to FYSB data, 90% of transitional living program participants exit to a safe place and 75% are employed or looking for work at the exit.
- A Covenant House analysis of 15 U.S. cities over a 12-month period, found that youth who accessed transitional housing, particularly for longer periods, experienced positive outcomes related to housing, employment, education, and access to services. Importantly, the data showed youth of color had higher rates of stable housing exits and higher rates of employment after utilizing transitional housing.
Unfortunately, these programs have been chronically underfunded since their inception, despite costing less than other systems. Only 25% of RHYA applicants receive funding due to a lack of funding.