In 2014, the federal government announced its intention to end youth homelessness by 2020 with the End Youth Homelessness Act of 2014. As an organization that has been devoted to helping homeless young people for more than 45 years, we are excited to see the state and the nation focusing more on this population.
One great result of this increased focus has been state efforts to forge a stronger connection between Child Protective Services and the many nonprofits dedicated to helping homeless youth. Strategies to increase child protection engagement with homeless youth would make it easier for younger kids to access the resources that are available to them.
Sadly, this increased focus is not coming with increased funding. The federal budget for runaway and homeless youth programs administered by the Department of Health and Human Services, Family & Youth Services Bureau, has only grown from $114 million to $119 million since 2009 – a decrease when inflation is taken into account.
Right here in Minnesota, the Homeless Youth Act was funded at $8.238 million for the 2016-17 biennium. That funding can be used for programs offering prevention, outreach, drop-in centers, emergency shelters, and permanent housing. When applications for this funding came in, the total requested was more than twice the amount available.
Anything that can be done to move the needle on the number of young people experiencing homelessness will be a positive change, but it is important to be realistic about the changes that can be made in such a short period. Youth homelessness is complex and multi-faceted. Any solutions to address it need to be multi-pronged and sustained – there are no quick fixes.
Youth homelessness has actually been increasing, not decreasing, in recent years. According to Wilder Research, homelessness among unaccompanied minors in Minnesota increased by 46 percent between 2012 and 2015. Some of that may have even been caused by HUD’s diversion of funds into other homelessness-related goals, such as ending veteran’s homelessness and family homelessness. Those are worthy causes, but focusing tightly on one population, to the detriment of others, for just a few years does not help anyone.
I’m happy to see the government taking note of the epidemic of youth homelessness, and taking steps to make a difference. I hope this short-term goal turns into a long-term commitment to helping the young people who are homeless in 2020 and beyond.
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