What can be done now to improve the experiences of unaccompanied runaway and homeless youth? The question is an important one given the lack of new resources dedicated to federal appropriations of the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act. In fact funding decreased from $116 million to $115 million dollars while unaccompanied runaway and homeless youth continue to be in need of more shelter, housing, and services.
But there are still ways to help. Among them:
Increase family intervention efforts. Research shows that most youth who runaway return home and youth who maintain contact with their family fare better than those who do not. By implementing family intervention strategies we can tap into built-in support network and housing resources and avoid sending youth into the system. While doing this, providers should continue to assess the appropriateness and safety of a youth returning home to his or her family.
Decrease barriers. Youth who are most in need may present with the most challenging behaviors. Targeting those most in need and ensuring that they have the ability to access services can lead to a decrease in the number of youth experiencing homelessness.
Decrease involuntary exits. Decreasing involuntary exits will increase youth’s access to an array of supportive services. These youth might otherwise be at greater risk of becoming disconnected when told to leave a program. To prevent involuntary exits, service providers can provide youth support during their lowest and most vulnerable moments.
Improve data on youth. To effectively solve youth homelessness, we first need to understand the scope of the problem. We need to know the number of homeless youth, how long they have been away from home, services they’ve accessed while on their own, their age, gender, race, sexual orientation and gender identity.
Communities can improve their counts of homeless youth during point-in-time counts or by conducting youth-specific counts and /or surveys. Also, programmatic data can be improved by de-duplicating the tally of youth served in drop-in centers and transitional housing programs.