Although they comprise only 5 to 7 percent of all youth in America, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth make up an average of 40 percent of all homeless youth in cities across the United States. These youth face a high risk of rejection and abuse in their homes, in their schools, and on the streets. For LGBT children and young adults left without safe homes, life on the street is dangerous, and the future may seem bleak.
But Thursday, Representatives Gwen Moore (D-WI) and Mark Pocan (D-WI) introduced legislation that would offer hope for LGBT youth and the providers charged with serving them. If passed, the Runaway and Homeless Youth Inclusion Act would amend the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act to prohibit discrimination against homeless youth based on sexual orientation or gender identity in the programs intended to offer them stability and shelter, and would promote data collection processes to help policymakers better understand LGBT youth homelessness. The priorities emphasized by the bill have drawn praise from advocates for LGBT homeless youth, including Cyndi Lauper, co-founder of the True Colors Fund, and the Center for American Progress. Laura E. Durso, Director of the LGBT Research and Communications Project at the Center for American Progress, says:
For LGBT children and young adults left without safe homes, life on the street is dangerous, and the future may seem bleak. So, it is encouraging that Congress is taking action to ensure that federal programs serving runaway and homeless youth meet the needs of all vulnerable children and young adults. This bill offers hope that significant progress toward brightening the futures of LGBT homeless youth is on the horizon.
The Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (RHYA) supports federally-funded programs for homeless youth, including street outreach, shelters and drop-in centers, and transitional living programs. The services provided by organizations receiving these grants not only provide safe places to stay for homeless youth, but also provide homelessness prevention and family reunification support, as well as social services to connect young adults with jobs and housing of their own. This bill would make the full scope of services provided under the law more inclusive and supportive of vulnerable LGBT youth.
Programs supported by the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act not only support stability and safety for LGBT homeless youth, but they also keep these children and young adults from entering the juvenile justice system, saving government costs. In 2006, 140 Street Outreach Program providers received RHYA grants, which helped them reach 402,207 youth with an average cost of $37 per contact. That same year, 328 Basic Center Programs served 37,648 youth, costing $1,282 per youth. Lastly, 207 Transitional Living Programs received RHYA grants, serving 2,683 youth at an average cost of $14,726 per youth. These costs are minuscule compared what it costs to place youth in child welfare or juvenile justice systems (ranging from $25,000 to $55,000 per youth). Making RHYA programs more accessible to LGBT youth not only helps to combat unfair criminalization of LGBT young adults, but is also the fiscally responsible thing to do.
Many members of Congress on both sides of the aisle claim to be advocates for children and for financial responsibility. The Runaway and Homeless Youth Inclusion Act would serve both of these important non-partisan goals, and could help make the future brighter for LGBT homeless youth. If lawmakers are interesting in walking the walk, supporting this piece of legislation is a good way to start.
Andrew Cray is a Policy Analyst for LGBT Progress.