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Guest Post: 40 Years of the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Advocacy, Awareness, Youth

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

@frankmctalk

Letter to the Editor by Guest Matias Vega

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Advocacy, Awareness, Hate Crimes, Violence Against the Homeless

Guest Post – by Matias Vega

Following last weekend’s devastating murders of two homeless individuals, Matias Vega of Albuquerque Health Care for the Homeless, Inc. wrote this piece to gather media attention.

Vulnerable to Hate: A Survey of Hate Crimes Committed Against Homeless People in 2013

This is the title of a June 2014 report from the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) on the national trend of hate crimes and violence targeting people experiencing homelessness. I am a family physician who has worked exclusively with the homeless community over the past 26 years, am the current Medical Director at Albuquerque Health Care for the Homeless where I have worked for the last 16 years, and am a 24 year member of the NCH Board of Directors.

Hate Crimes By Class

For the past 15 years, we at NCH have been documenting hate crimes against homeless people across the nation. Sadly, what has happened locally in Albuquerque over the past 2 months is neither unique nor surprising. Since 1999, there have been over 1400 acts of violence against homeless individuals and over 375 deaths reported in 47 states, Puerto Rico, and Washington, DC. 72% of the victims were men over the age of 40, and 48% of the perpetrators were males under the age of 20. For reference, homeless hate crimes leading to death have been greater in number than all other deadly hate crimes combined in 14 out of the last 15 years across all of the US.

These deaths all meet the definition of homeless hate crimes: crimes committed against people simply because of their homelessness and vulnerability. Much can be done to protect the lives of people experiencing homelessness including designating homeless status as a protected class, adding homeless status to existing hate crime laws, or passage of City or State homeless hate crime legislation or a Homeless Bill of Rights, and requirement of law enforcement to complete trainings on how to interact effectively and respectfully with the homeless community. Since most of these hate crimes are committed by teenagers, creating educational curricula in grade and high schools on homelessness can be essential in preventing future homeless hate crimes. As the NCH report documents, “Bias crimes send a message to the attacked group, as well as a message about society as a whole. There is a correlation between the criminalization of homelessness and hate crimes against homeless individuals. Without protection under hate crimes legislation, homeless individuals are targeted as a class because of their status in society. We need to send a message that people who are homeless are still people and, as such, should not be attacked.”

This is the time for NM and Albuquerque to lead the way in making crimes against people who are homeless a hate crime. In America and New Mexico, people deserve the right to a quality of life and safety from violence, and especially, murder, regardless of their housing status. Homelessness should not be a death sentence. We can and must do better in protecting the lives of people experiencing homelessness.

NEW REPORT: Hate Crimes Committed against the Homeless in 2013

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Advocacy, Awareness, Hate Crimes, Report, Violence Against the Homeless

Hate Crimes 2013 Cover

Vulnerable to Hate: A Survey of Hate Crimes and Violence Committed against Homeless People in 2013 is a new report that documents the incidents of violent attacks on people experiencing homelessness by housed perpetrators. The National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) has been tracking these acts for 15 years. Sadly there currently is not a federal system in place to collect these statistics and many cases go unreported.

In 2013, there was a 23.8% increase in the overall number of attacks from the previous year. NCH learned of 109 attacks in 2013, 18 of which resulted in the death of the homeless victim.

This is a widespread issue; attacks have taken place in 47 states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. They most commonly occur in locations where homeless individuals tend to be more visible and thus more vulnerable to people passing by and seeing an opportunity.

Homeless populations are currently not protected by hate crimes legislation. You can help to stop these atrocities by advocating for local, state, and federal legislation that will classify the homeless as a protected class under hate crime legislation and collect appropriate data on the number of incidents that occur each year. Awareness programs and sensitivity trainings are also recommended to improve the treatment of homeless individuals in your community. Ultimately, providing access to affordable housing and getting people off the streets will be the best way to remove the risk of violence against this vulnerable and exposed population.

View the full report here!

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