New York City’s Runaway Homeless Youth Deserve Better Services

For most young people, turning 21 is ceremonious. It’s a rite of passage into adulthood celebrated with spirits and friends.

But for runaway and homeless youth utilizing New York City’s specialized youth shelter system, turning 21 carries a much different and daunting significance. Per existing law, homeless young people can only stay in specialized youth shelters until the age of 21, at which point they must leave the home-like environment and tailored services of youth shelters and move to single adult shelters.

Coalition Testifies on Safe and Accessible Shelters for Homeless Youth

In addition to the underlying trauma of homelessness, runaway and homeless youth face a range of daunting obstacles as they try to navigate the transition from adolescence to adulthood without the stability of a home. In order for these young people to thrive, they need specialized services tailored to their specific needs. The City has put forth more resources over the past few years to increase the number of beds that are available to homeless young people up to age 21, but more investments are needed.

On Thursday, Coalition for the Homeless and The Legal Aid Society presented testimony before the New York City Council’s Committee on Youth Services and Committee on General Welfare on “Oversight: Safe and Accessible Shelters for Homeless Youth.” The testimony detailed the considerable challenges facing homeless youth and urged the Council to better monitor and serve this vulnerable population by passing Intros 1619, 1699, 1700, 1705, and 1706.

The bills would mandate better reporting, allow youth up to age 25 to stay in shelters operated by the NYC Department of Youth and Community Development, and extend the time limits for those youth-specific facilities. For youth who do age out or time out of DYCD shelters, Intro. 1705 would allow them to enter Department of Homeless Services shelters by bypassing the standard intake and assessment process, which is often a major deterrent for young people. Notably, Intro. 1700 would ensure that youth who are trying to access youth-specific shelters will be able to do so. The Legal Aid Society’s work as class counsel for New York City’s runaway and homeless youth in a 2013 lawsuit in collaboration with Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler, LLC, C.W. v. The City of New York, has shed a light on the urgent need for such reforms.

According to the testimony:

By definition, RHY are disconnected from the very support systems that are intended to support adolescent development into adulthood, such as their families and schools. As discussed briefly above, even before a young person is considered runaway or homeless they have likely experienced trauma. This trauma is only exacerbated each day they are experiencing homelessness.

While it is difficult to explain all of the ways in which youth experience homelessness in New York City, there are common threads. Not surprisingly, homeless youth in New York face myriad dangers, obstacles, and simply frightening circumstances as they navigate the city trying to survive. Survival often involves entry into the street economy. Many homeless youth are pressured to trade sex for a place to sleep or shower and about one-third to half of these youth exchange sex for money, food, or a place to stay. Many are victims of sex trafficking. These dangers expose them to a significantly heightened risk of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV.  For runaway or homeless youth with serious substance abuse issues, which often stem from the very chaotic and traumatic family histories that drive them to homelessness, options are limited. Programs are often abstinence based, and many of these youth need treatment, support, and time before they are able or ready to quit. RHY are at high risk of involvement with the juvenile or criminal justice system due to their homelessness. The lack of stability can also impact their ability to continue with school, or find and maintain employment. For these reasons, access to meaningful healthcare, including access to quality mental healthcare, and related services is particularly crucial for RHY. Despite the many challenges they face, RHY exhibit a common desire to be self-sufficient and yearn for the tools and ability to be successful in that pursuit. Because they do not share many of the characteristics of chronically homeless adults, it is critical to provide youth-specific shelter and services that increase their ability to achieve self-sufficiency.

The full testimony can be read here.

We Couldn’t Have Helped So Many Kids Without You!

The Coalition for the Homeless recently completed its 10th annual Project: Back to School, our school supply drive for homeless girls and boys.

Throughout the months of August and early September, hundreds of caring individuals, organizations and volunteers were hard at work in the CFH office packing brand new backpacks with school supplies and getting them ready for the girls and boys who need them most. Thanks to everyone who participated, we were able to deliver more than 4,000 school bags filled with essentials like crayons, rulers, notebooks, binders and even scientific calculators.

We couldn’t have helped so many kids without our wonderful and generous partners. Manhattan Mini Storage joined us for the 10th straight year by allowing caring New Yorkers to conveniently drop off supplies at their many storage sites throughout the city. In total, they collected and helped us sort an astounding 20 extra-large boxes of supplies! Again this year, Huntington Learning Center graciously hosted drop-off sites at their locations in the five boroughs and promoted the drive widely on social media. The UFT, another long-time partner also donated 27 boxes of school supplies, including much-needed calculators.

We can’t express enough thanks to the Queens Borough President Melinda Katz and Congressman Eliot Engel, who hosted drives at their offices in Queens and in the Bronx, giving New Yorkers living in those boroughs a way to easily get involved.

We surely couldn’t have distributed so many backpacks to so many boys and girls in time for the first day of school without the hard work and generosity of our corporate partners, including AIG, who filled 1,000 backpacks in just a few hours, and delivered them – ready to go – to the Coalition’s offices; and Bolla Oil, who held a festive party for our Bound for Success class and delivered all the backpacks needed for the shelter where BFS is located. Thank you also to volunteers from Tory Burch, Telstra, Seimans, and so many more – we really appreciate all of your hard work!

Tonight, 23,000 children will sleep in New York City homeless shelters. Living in a homeless shelter can be devastating for a family – but for a child, the experience is especially traumatic. Thanks to our amazing supporters, thousands of kids know that someone is there rooting for their success and that there are better days ahead.

Thank you again to everyone who volunteered and contributed to this year’s Project: Back to School!

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