The following are remarks from the Alliance’s President and CEO, Nan Roman, regarding the U.S. Department of of Health and Human Services’ new framework to advance the goal of ending youth homelessness by 2020, as announced at a live webcast of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness meeting.
The National Alliance to End Homelessness applauds the commitment of Chairman Sebelius and the members of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) to end youth homelessness by 2020. For far too long the plight of unaccompanied children and young adults has gone unaddressed. Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness brought much needed attention to this particularly vulnerable population. The USICH Proposed Framework for Ending Youth Homelessness is an important next step in laying out what the Federal government will do to achieve this goal.
The Alliance concurs with the major focus areas in the Framework: sizing the population; identifying the key segments of the population; identifying solutions for each segment; and going to scale with the solutions for each segment. We also support the outcomes of housing, connection, wellbeing, and education/employment.
Earlier this year the Alliance made a preliminary effort, using existing data, to estimate the size and segments of the population and examined this information for implications to policy and practice. Based on this framework as well as the USICH Framework presented today, the Alliance offers the following thoughts for the future.
Improving Data. The Alliance concurs that better data is essential to size and address the problem to scale. Further, the experiences of both HUD and VA clearly indicate that setting numerical goals for ending homelessness, and driving performance toward these goals, works. Without solid data there is no baseline and progress cannot be measured. For all of these reasons, the need for better data is critical. The Alliance recommends:
- Merging RHYMIS and HMIS in 2012 and beginning to create the tools by which the increasing volume of youth data can be analyzed.
- Requiring youth providers and local Continuums of Care to include youth in the HUD mandated point in time counts in 2013. Any inclusion of youth will be an improvement.
- Prioritizing research and evaluation of different intervention models for different subpopulations of youth to better inform resource allocation and targeting.
Serving High Need Youth. Approximately 40,000 youth have higher levels of physical and mental health problems and rates of substance use, as well as longer or more frequent episodes of homelessness. These youth may spend long periods on the streets because they cannot or do not access programs that lack either the ability or the inclination to address their need for treatment. While on the street, they face a host of challenges, including violence, drugs, and the risk of sexual exploitation. HHS and HUD should incentivize youth-targeted programs to serve the most vulnerable youth by providing bonus points in the competitive granting process to programs that target “street youth” with a diagnosed/diagnosable mental health, substance abuse, physical and/or developmental disorder; and that clearly define the outcomes they will achieve. Evaluation of these efforts, and practice collaboratives to share best practices are also recommended in order to advance successful approaches.
Mainstream Resources. Reunification with family remains the most practical and promising solution for a vast majority of homeless youth, particularly those under 18. Additionally, the reason that families break apart is often poverty and eviction rather than conflict. The homelessness system is not sized to address these needs. As Opening Doors points out, mainstream programs such as child welfare, TANF, juvenile justice, and housing must assume much of this responsibility. The education system has a critical role both in identifying risk and improving outcomes. Ending youth homelessness will require a clear plan for how mainstream programs will assume responsibility for these vulnerable youth. HHS should encourage state child welfare agencies to include these minors as a targeted population in state plans, with goals for reducing homelessness. HHS could also provide guidance as to how child welfare agencies can work collaboratively with RHYA programs to better serve homeless youth. The Administration could set goals for other mainstream programs including affordable housing, TANF, juvenile and criminal justice, and mental health and substance abuse treatment to strengthen families and both prevent youth from becoming homeless and facilitate youth returning to their families.
Once again, thank you to Chairman Sebelius and the members of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, as well as the HHS Administration on Children, Youth and Families, for the commitment to end youth homelessness. The Alliance looks forward to being a partner with the Administration on these efforts.