40 Years of the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act by Frank McAlpin, Guest Blogger
This week marks the 40th anniversary of the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (RHYA), which has provided funding for services to youth experiencing homelessness across the nation. And 40 years after the initial legislation, the services that RHYA funds are needed now more than ever.
Youth become homeless for a number of reasons including: family violence and neglect, rejection due to sexual orientation or gender identity, the overwhelmed child welfare system and extreme poverty. These youth almost always have experienced unimaginable abuse and trauma, in their homes, their communities, and on the street. It is the RHYA-funded services and programs that help to rectify the deep injustices that homeless youth experience on a daily basis.
RHYA specifically funds three different programs for homeless youth: street outreach, which aims to transition youth off the streets; basic centers, which provides youth temporary shelter and services; and transitional living programs, which provides longer term housing and support to youth 16-21 years of age. In July of this year new federal legislation was introduced in Congress, the Runaway and Homeless Youth Trafficking and Prevention Act.
This new legislation would reauthorize the original RHYA and strengthen the law to better serve homeless youth today. The new law adds a nondiscrimination clause, which would ensure that all youth seeking services, including LGBTQ youth are treated fairly and with dignity by agencies receiving federal funding. This clause directly reflects the current homeless youth population, with almost 40 percent of homeless youth identifying as LGBTQ. In addition, the new law would require culturally competent and comprehensive care and services for all homeless youth, including LGBTQ youth and youth who have been survivors of human trafficking, violence and exploitation.
Over the past 40 years, there is no question that millions of youth have been impacted by RHYA. This one piece of legislation has been the cornerstone of homeless youth services for decades and has literally been a lifeline for an untold amount of youth experiencing homelessness. As a social worker working with homeless youth I have seen first hand the extraordinary work of the RHYA funded programs.
In working with youth experiencing homelessness, I have been witness to the beautiful transformation that happens when youth are transitioned off the street and into supportive housing programs. Programs in which youth can heal from trauma, learn basic life skills, obtain a job, pursue their education, repair relationships with their family and begin to fulfill their deepest passions. In short, RHYA and the agencies that receive the funding seek to restore dignity to youth experiencing homelessness. It aims to provide youth with the support and care necessary for them not just to survive but thrive.
The passage of the updated RHYA, Runaway and Homeless Youth Trafficking and Prevention Act by Congress is imperative for youth experiencing homelessness. There is no better way to honor the 40th anniversary of RHYA and the over one million homeless youth today, then for the passage the Runaway and Homeless Youth Trafficking and Prevention Act. It ensures that homeless youth’s beauty, strength and potential are elevated and that they will be able to move out homelessness and fulfill their dreams.
Frank McAlpin, social worker based in Hollywood