Federal Policy Solutions to Prevent and End Youth and Young Adult Homelessness

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Author(s): National Network for Youth

Published: March 2017

Report Intro/Brief:
“The severity of our nation’s youth and young adult (YYA) homelessness epidemic is staggering. Tens, and possibly hundreds of thousands of youth (minors) and young adults (18 to 24 year olds) face homelessness each year. Accurate numbers are hard to come by, but the most recent HUD Point-in-Time count found nearly 37,000 YYA and about 9,900 parenting YYA homeless on a single night in January 2015. Additionally, 95,032 unaccompanied homeless youth were counted in public schools in the 2014-2015 school year – a 21 percent increase from the 2012-2013 school year.

Communities across America – rural, urban and suburban alike – are struggling to address youth and young adult homelessness, often with no established developmentally appropriate infrastructure in place. Youth experiencing homelessness – who are not children and are not adults – remain unserved by many state and federal programs. The child welfare system – foster care – focuses on children and youth ages 18 and under and for many teens in crisis, the foster care system just doesn’t prioritize them, or work to provide them with the skills to successfully transition to adulthood.

HUD provides housing for those facing homelessness – but not always the kind that young adults need. Adult homeless shelters typically lack developmentally appropriate solutions for young people. Additionally, HUD-funded programs frequently lack the capacity to serve the homeless population within their communities, and new coordinated entry systems often fail to provide access or appropriate solutions for young people experiencing homelessness.

Programs funded through, or operating under, the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act provide a range or housing and services to help YYA experiencing homelessness: street outreach, short term early intervention and crisis housing for minors and transitional living programs for youth between the ages of 16 and 22. However, there is no comprehensive, coordinated federal system that is funded to meet the magnitude of need among youth and young adults at-risk of and experiencing homelessness. In fact, multiple federal agencies have multiple programs that are designed to serve YYA and these programs have differing eligibility requirements. This makes a coordinated and effective response challenging. Despite a previous U.S. government commitment to end youth homelessness by 2020, serious work remains to be done.

We are calling on federal policymakers and agency staff to support the creation of a comprehensive, collaborative, system-based approach to addressing youth and young adult homelessness that is youth centric and flexible. This support is needed in the form of updated laws, policies and priorities. YYA must have the widest possible door to entry of this system so that whenever and wherever they find themselves, young people can access a safe and secure place to stay and services to help them undergo a safe and healthy transition to adulthood. Our recommendations target the critical need for the federal government to:

  1. Adopt a shared understanding of YYA homelessness so that: data collected by different sources will paint a consistent and accurate picture of the need in our communities and ensure that all young people are able to access the services and housing they need;
  2. Increase investment in YYA-appropriate housing and services so that the gap between need and vital services is closed;
  3. Examine and improve the child welfare and juvenile justice systems so they stop failing to help exiting youth transition with appropriate services and supports, especially stable housing;
  4. Strengthen and support the work of federal agencies to facilitate the effective sharing of resources and remove needless bureaucratic barriers that prevent YYA from receiving the help they need;
  5. Create mechanisms for flexibility in federal programs so that communities can develop YYA accessible and appropriate housing and services that meet the needs in their community; and
  6. Adopt a shared vision of core outcomes to measure success across federal programs that are developmentally appropriate.

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