Because homeless youth can be involved in many public systems (such as child welfare, juvenile justice, and homeless assistance), many policies and programs can affect them. With respect to shelter, housing, and outreach services for RHY, key elements of the federal policy and program context include the RHY Program structure, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funding for homeless services, and the USICH Framework to End Youth Homelessness. We describe each of these next.
RHY Program. The federal RHY Program, administered by the Family and Youth Services Bureau (FYSB) in ACF (part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services), funds community-based organizations and shelters serving young people. The program makes annual grants totaling more than $100 million to support four types of direct services:
- Basic center. Basic center grantees provide up to 21 days of emergency shelter to youth under age 18, along with counseling to support the return of youth to their families, if appropriate.
- Transitional living and maternity group homes. These grants support longer-term housing (up to 21 months), such as supervised apartments and host home programs, in which youth live in the homes of screened and trained adult volunteers. Transitional living programs offer supportive services to youth ages 16 to 22 to promote self-sufficiency and social and emotional well-being. Some transitional living grants fund housing for pregnant and parenting youth. As with other transitional living programs, maternity group homes offer services to make it easier to transition to self-sufficiency, but they also offer parenting skills training.
- Street outreach. Street outreach grantees contact youth living on the streets to build relationships, provide basic living supplies, and offer information on shelters and other services. The primary goal of such programs is to protect youth and prevent sexual exploitation or other harm.
In addition to direct services, the RHY Program supports the National Runaway Safeline, which connects youth in crisis to available services, and a training and technical assistance network for RHY grantees.5
FYSB requires grantees of the RHY Basic Center and Transitional Living programs to report semiannually the number and demographics of youth they serve, the types of services provided, and the status of youth when they exit RHY programs. Grantees record and submit these data to the federal government through the Runaway Homeless Youth Management Information System (RHYMIS), a database created for this purpose. Agencies create entry and exit records for each youth served, including youth who reenter services. Entry records document the young person’s (1) demographic characteristics, (2) living situation at entry, (3) referral source, (4) school status, and (5) involvement in the child welfare or juvenile justice system. Exit records document (1) youths’ “critical issues” or needs identified by program staff, including issues related to sexual orientation or gender identity; (2) services provided to youth, (3) plans for providing transitional support or referrals after program exit, and (4) youths’ living situation at exit.
RHYMIS records include fields for reporting the sexual orientation and gender identity of clients served, among other demographic characteristics. This feature distinguishes RHYMIS from the administrative databases of other ACF programs, which do not collect information on participants’ sexual orientation or gender identity. According to the RHY Program’s 2010-2011 Report to Congress, among youth whose sexual orientation was reported in RHYMIS, lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth accounted for 6 or 7 percent served in the Basic Center Program and 9 or 10 percent served in the Transitional Living Program during fiscal years 2010 and 2011 (HHS 2013). Transgender youth accounted for less than 1 percent of youth served in each program during these years (HHS 2013). However, the Report to Congress notes that RHYMIS data may underreport the percentage of youth served who are LGBT, since youth are not always asked these questions or do not always provide responses to them. (We discuss additional challenges related to data collection on sexual orientation and gender identity in Chapter II.)
HUD homeless assistance programs. Many programs serving homeless youth receive funding from multiple government and private sources, including HUD. HUD homeless assistance programs support emergency shelter, supportive services, transitional housing, homelessness prevention, and other services through Continuum of Care (CoC) awards to coalitions of nonprofit organizations, State agencies, and/or local government agencies operating in a specific geographic area. HUD awarded $1.67 billion in CoC grants in fiscal year 2012. Lead agencies receiving CoC awards may subaward funds to individual service providers. This approach to funding is intended to promote collaborative planning and service delivery among agencies that address the various needs of homeless people in a local area. HUD requires most agencies receiving CoC awards or subawards to implement a Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) to collect and report on client characteristics and services provided in their local areas. Some agencies also use HMIS as an internal case management system. HUD does not require that HMISs report clients’ sexual orientation and gender identity, but agencies may choose to collect such data through their locally developed HMIS.
USICH Framework to End Youth Homelessness. The USICH is an independent agency within the federal executive branch whose mission is to coordinate the federal response to homelessness and to create partnerships to reduce and end homelessness in the nation. The USICH’s 2010 strategic plan to prevent and end homelessness established a goal of ending homelessness among children, families, and youth by 2020 (USICH 2010). In February 2013, USICH released a framework proposing two strategies for addressing youth homelessness: (1) improving data collection; and (2) improving the capacity of federal, state, and local systems that serve youth experiencing homelessness or at risk of becoming homeless (USICH 2013). Both strategies have implications for providers serving LGBTQ youth.
The first strategy focuses on creating systems to gather and communicate accurate information on the number and circumstances of homeless youth. It emphasizes such steps as including youth in point-in-time counts of the homeless population, integrating or coordinating federal information systems that record data on homeless youth receiving services, and undertaking national studies to address information gaps regarding the number and characteristics of homeless youth. As one step in this strategy, USICH and several other federal agencies have launched Youth Count!, an effort to identify promising methods for counting unaccompanied homeless youth in local areas. Improved data on homeless youth will incorporate information on key subpopulations, including LGBTQ youth.
The framework’s second strategy is to create and disseminate an intervention model for serving homeless youth and helping them achieve desired outcomes: stable housing, enhanced connections with sources of social support, increased participation in education or employment, and improved health and well-being. The preliminary model posits screening and assessment, followed by provision of services (housing or shelter, mental or physical health care, and social supports) matched to youth circumstances and risk levels (USICH 2013). A key principle of the model that USICH proposes is that services should be culturally appropriate and tailored to youth characteristics, including sexual orientation and gender identity.
5 For additional information on the Runaway and Homeless Youth Program, please see the program’s most recent Report to Congress (http://www.acf.hhs.gov/system/files/fysb/rhy_congress_2010_11.pdf).