WASHINGTON, DC – In an effort to help end youth homelessness and protect vulnerable homeless youth from human traffickers, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies (THUD), led by Ranking Member Jack Reed (D-RI) and Chairman Susan Collins (R-ME), today held a hearing to discuss the urgent issue of youth homelessness in the United tates.  The hearing focused on strengthening protections for homeless youth, and better connecting them to coordinated housing, education, health, and job-training programs and services.

During the hearing, a diverse panel of experts and youth homelessness advocates testified about boosting efforts to prevent and end youth homelessness.  The witnesses included Grammy award-winning recording artist and founder of the True Colors Fund, Cyndi Lauper, as well as Jennifer Ho, Senior Advisor for Housing and Services to the U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD); Deborah Shore, Chairman of the National Network for Youth; and Brittany Dixon, a young woman from Maine who experienced youth homelessness and is now a college graduate and education technician.

Much of the hearing centered on the root causes of youth homelessness, as well as the need to invest additional, targeted resources to address the problem holistically, so that young men and women not only have a place to call home, but also access to the job training, education, and other support services that will set them on a path to financial independence and help them avoid homelessness in adulthood.

“Youth homelessness is not just an urban problem, or a red state or a blue state problem.  It happens in every state.  In Rhode Island, we had 986 youth who utilized the shelter system last year, a figure that does not represent every young person who experienced homelessness in Rhode Island, but it is still eye opening.  We want every child to have a safe, stable home as well as food, healthcare, an education, and a chance to build a better life for themselves, and our community.  We can’t afford to let young people fall through the cracks or let their talents go to waste.  The better informed, integrated and coordinated our systems and organizations are nationally and locally, the better chance we have to help these kids when they need it most,” said Reed in his opening statement.

“We have made important progress in reducing homelessness, particularly among veterans and the chronically homeless.  But we still have a lot of work to do, especially in understanding and addressing youth homelessness.  We need an emphasis on permanent connections. The transition from homelessness is not just the facility and a place to stay for a while, but it’s making a connection with someone that can mentor you and give you a chance,” added Reed.

Reed also emphasized the need to increase federal investments in addressing youth homelessness, arguing that current, limited resources have forced agencies to limit those who qualify for help.  “The issue here is as much resources as it is the rule-making.  We have to make the rules much more inclusive and accessible to young people,” he said.

“We can end youth homelessness in America, but we have to get to the root of the problem.  Our country must invest in preventing kids from becoming homeless in the first place, and this is an area of focus that has largely been ignored.  That means helping families.  It means fixing our broken child welfare system, our flawed juvenile justice system, and our schools.  Each one of those places can be a doorway to homelessness or to a better future,” said Lauper in her testimony.  She also highlighted the need to pass inclusive federal legislation to prevent runaway and homeless youth from falling victim to human trafficking and sexual exploitation. 

According to the Human Rights Campaign, of the nearly 2 million young people who are affected by homelessness each year, research shows that up to 40 percent of homeless youth identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT), even though they make up only 5 to 10 percent of the overall youth population.  Ms. Lauper is an advocate for helping LGBT homeless youth and protecting them from discrimination.

The latest statistics from the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless show that about 4,100 people in the state spent a night in a homeless shelter in 2014, including 986 children and youth. 

Senator Reed has been a strong supporter of housing assistance and homelessness prevention initiatives.  Reed is the author of the Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing (HEARTH) Act, which President Obama signed into law in May of 2009.  In addition to boosting targeted homelessness assistance and prevention grant programs going forward, Reed’s legislation mandated that the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness produce a “national strategic plan” to end homelessness, which became the White House’s new strategy called “Opening Doors.”