runaway and homeless youth act

Cutting Through the Noise: Advocating for our Kids during the Presidential Election

Written by: Katie Carter, Director of Research, Education & Public Policy, National Safe Place Network

As a political junkie, I love presidential election years. I especially love years like this: where a few months ago there was no incumbent and wide-open races on both sides (depending on who you ask). These campaign cycles can also be incredibly frustrating. Candidates visit small towns where they would never otherwise set foot, eat state fair food, rub elbows with locals, and mug for photos. It all feels inauthentic. Fake. How can a long-serving U.S. senator really speak on behalf of working families? How can a billionaire relate to middle class workers? How can privileged white men and women relate to the plights of runaway youth? How can powerful people understand what it’s like to be homeless when they have never had to worry whether they will have a place to sleep, or a hot meal and shower waiting for them in the morning?

This is where we come in. As advocates, youth workers, execs leading youth and family-serving agencies, it’s up to us to make sure the needs of these young people and families are heard. We need to beat the drum to make sure affordable housing, funds for runaway and homeless youth programs, and affordable health care for young people are priorities for elected leaders at all levels of government – from city council to the President of the United States.

Here are some ideas for getting involved this election year:

  1. Host elected officials at your organization or shelter. Show them around and explain how you operate, what you need, and what it means to the young people you serve. This could include your city officials, state senators and representations, or US congress members. If you are in an early caucus or primary state, you may even be able to get a presidential candidate (see above comments).
  2. Write Letters to the Editor of your local papers. Highlight your programs and how proposed legislative changes (at all levels of government), will impact your agencies and the youth you service, for the better or worse.
  3. Communicate with your elected officials. Make phone calls. Email them. National officials track the number of calls and emails they receive on specific issues. State officials often do the same. It may not seems like they are listening, they are tracking!
  4. Encourage your staff to vote. Encourage young people to vote. Take young people to the primaries or election in November. Help them register. It’s their right.

However you get involved, don’t pass up this opportunity to make your voice heard and advocate on behalf of the young people we serve.

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Senators Leahy and Collins Introduce the Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act (RHYTPA)

Earlier this week, Senators Leahy and Collins introduced the bipartisan Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act (read more about the bill and track its progress here: http://1.usa.gov/1JTW89Q). Although there is no bipartisan bill yet in the House, National Network for Youth and partners are working hard to make sure that happens.

This legislation serves homeless youth through the following programs:

  • Basic Center Program provides grants to community and nonprofit organizations to support emergency shelters and services to reunite youth with their families;
  • Street Outreach Programs provides outreach services to at-risk youth;
  • Transitional Living Program provides housing and life skill support to older youth 16-22 years old.

These programs serve thousands of youth each year and are critically important in every state. In Federal Fiscal Year 2014, the Basic Center Program served 30,536 children in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and Washington D.C. The Transitional Living Program served 2, 788 youth and the Street Outreach Program made contact with over 460,000 youth during the same time period. These young people often have nowhere else to turn when a crisis occurs.

The recently introduced legislation authorized funds to complete the National Study on the prevalence, Needs and Incidence of Homeless Youth in America – a study which will provide a better understanding of the size and needs of America’s homeless youth populations. The bill increases the length of stay for Basic Center Programs from 21 days to 30 days, allowing for addition access to reunification services. The legislation also includes a nondiscrimination clause that has already been adopted by programs across the country, ensuring housing and services will be provided fairly to youth.

This is a necessary step in providing services for homeless youth across the country.

National Network for Youth is circulating a sign-on letter to support this legislation. Read more about it and sign-on here: http://bit.ly/1yegkvy.

Celebrating 40 Years of “Looks”

The Look

You know the look. If you have been around a while you have seen it hundreds if not thousands of times. You are meeting someone new and you are asked what it is that you do. Struggling to find the simplest, most straightforward answer, you might say…”I work with youth”. The person might ask for more…perhaps, “Are you a teacher?” and while the answer is yes, you are – you may probably say – no, I work in a shelter (substitute group home, residential treatment center, outpatient counseling, wilderness camp, after school program or…) and then, wait for it….the look.

The look is one filled with first bemusement, then questions and then the moment of “oh, that must be rewarding – I couldn’t do it” or “these kids today – they just need discipline” or maybe even “you must be a saint to deal with those little terrors”.

You may take time to explain but often you find it isn’t worth it. The people who respond in this way may never recognize, understand or feel what we do. It is an honor. It is a privilege and it is an enormous responsibility to stand in front of any other individual and say “give me your best shot – I can take it. I believe in you and I am not backing down, running away or giving up on you.” You see their minds working quickly to regain position. “Oh yeah, we’ll see” and then the tests begin. You are ready. You have studied. You have back-up and better yet, you have faith. And, after one or maybe many struggles – you see the other look. The one we anticipate. The one we hope to see. The one we love.

This look is filled with wonder and questions and a glimmer of confidence and self esteem that was hard to see. This look is filled with “don’t you watch the news? We are trouble. There is no point in trying. We will end up making sure that everything negative that was ever said about us is true because that may be the only way we don’t disappoint  our families, the system or anyone else that cares to pay any attention.”

Your look in response might be first filled with frustration, and a deep sigh and maybe even an unshed tear says “I know. I know who you are. I see your creativity, your energy, your resilience, your love for the other youth and the dreams that you swallow rather than let anyone hear them out loud. I know. You have made mistakes. You followed the leader or you led others into harm.  But we learn. We change. We grow. It starts here and I am by your side.”

The media, the system, the community and sometimes even our own families have a hard time understanding and embracing the youth we serve. It is easier to assign them a label and move on – hoping for better news with the next youth that crosses their paths. As we celebrate 40 years of the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act, take a moment to think about the youth that called, asked for help, walked into a shelter, received a hygiene kit or accepted a hug. Each one defied the odds, the expectations and took a step toward something different. Your look helped them know whether it was safe to keep moving in the right direction or if it was better to retreat.

Recently, Robin Williams – a comic genius and gifted actor – took his own life. In the film “Dead Poet’s Society” he portrays Professor Keating and he shares the following quote with the boys he is teaching. When speaking about life as a play he says “and that the powerful play goes on, and that you might contribute a verse.” What is the verse you contribute to the lives of youth? How do we support them in creating and sharing their own verses so that their stories blend with ours to continue this powerful play?

Remember that looks reflect what we see, feel and believe inside. Look at our youth with hope even when they push us further than we thought we could be pushed. Look at our youth in partnership. Even when they refuse every offer of assistance that comes their way. Look at our youth with acceptance. Even when who they are challenges every fiber of who you are.  Then, wait for it….

Author: Anonymous – Someone who has dedicated their life to serving youth; someone who has dedicated their life  to receiving “The Look”.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act and we invite RHY Grantees to celebrate with us. Learn how at www.rhyttac.net/news/celebrate-40th-anniversary-runaway-and-homeless-youth-act-us

All entries must be received no later than Monday, September 22, 2014.

Miley Cyrus Advocates for Homeless Youth

Miley Cyrus is a household name. She’s a pop superstar who has made a living performing on television shows and on stage in front of large crowds. She’s had many experiences in her young life but perhaps one of the most eye-opening experiences she’s had thus far was during a recent visit to My Friend’s Place, a homeless youth shelter in Los Angeles.

Cyrus is now lending her voice to advocate on behalf of homeless youth in America. During the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards on Sunday night, Cyrus won the award for Video of the Year. Instead of accepting the trophy herself, Cyrus sent a young man named Jesse to accept the award and raise awareness for homeless youth.

He read his statements from note cards:

“My name is Jesse and I am accepting this award on behalf of the 1.6 million runaways and homeless youth in the United States who are starving, lost and scared for their lives right now. I know this because I am one of these people. I survived in shelters all over the city. I’ve cleaned your hotel rooms, I’ve been an extra in your movies, I’ve been an extra in your life. Though I may have been invisible to you on the streets, I have a lot of the same dreams that brought many of you here tonight.”

His speech called attention to the large and growing population of homeless young people in Los Angeles.

“The music industry will make over $7 billion this year, and outside these doors are 54,000 human beings who have no place to call home. If you want to make a powerful change in the world right now, please join us and go to Miley’s Facebook page. A dream you dream alone is only a dream, but a dream you dream together is reality.”

Within the last day, news outlets have reported that Jesse has a police record and an open warrant out for his arrest. It’s important to remain focused on the issue, which is runaway and homeless youth in this country. Regardless of Jesse’s story, youth homelessness is a very real issue and each young person’s experience looks different. Kids may run away from home or become homeless for any number of reasons – physical and sexual abuse, neglect, family conflict, dating violence, bullying, and more. Homeless youth are not bad kids. Unfortunately for most, they’ve experienced loss, violence, trauma and/or other hardships that have left them feeling alone, scared, and lost. Because of this, youth may turn to couch surfing or living on the streets because they feel these are better options than their current situations. It’s up to all of us as individuals and communities to support young people in need. Youth need to know they are valued and have access to safe and supportive resources when dealing with a difficult situation.

This year marks the 40th Anniversary of the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act, which funds programs that help prevent the exploitation of youth on the streets and support reconnection to their families, schools, employment, and housing options. While there is still much work to be done in order to end youth homelessness, it’s important to celebrate the successes and advancements of the past 40 years.

To learn more about runaway and homeless youth and how you can support youth in need, please visit any of the following websites:

National Safe Place Network – www.nspnetwork.org

Safe Place – www.nationalsafeplace.org

National Runaway Safeline – www.1800runaway.org

National Network for Youth – www.nn4youth.org

National Alliance to End Homelessness – http://www.endhomelessness.org/pages/youth