Linda Kramer, CEO, Daybreak, Dayton, Ohio
I support the Homeless Children and Youth Act because homeless young people are one of our most vulnerable and underserved populations. They live invisibly in every community and have virtually no voice. As CEO of Daybreak, a homeless youth serving agency, I believe that it is my responsibility and the responsibility of all youth workers to be their voice in a world that is governed by and for adults.
Daybreak is a Runaway and Homeless Youth Act(RHYA) agency located in Dayton, Ohio. We provide emergency shelter, transitional housing, street outreach services and a wide array of support services for over 600 young people every year.
The fact that HUD and RHYA have different definitions for “youth” and different definitions of “homelessness” creates major barriers for youth and challenges for service providers. For example, the HUD Continuum of Care does not recognize “couch surfers” as being truly homeless. Consequently many older youth (18-24) must enter the adult shelters in order to be eligible and referred for housing. We have found that when a young person enters one of the community’s 200+ bed shelter one or more of the following scenarios tend to occur: 1) They become victims in the shelter – particularly if they are GLBTQ; 2) They don’t stay long enough to access support services; 3) They get “sucked into” the homeless adult community; and/or 4) They become a low priority for service staff because they are not considered chronically homeless.
If HCYA were enacted, couch-surfing youth who are identified by our program would be eligible for HUD CoC services without any need for another destabilizing move and the trauma caused by entering the adult system. We could make a simple referral to expedite services.
Another challenge we face is that there are more youth who are homeless than youth service capacity. Our community has 8 different adult providers that offer multiple programs with over 1,000 beds/units. Daybreak is the only RHYA provider, has 16 shelter beds and 54 Transitional Living Program beds. RHYA does not provide funding for transition age youth (TAY) shelters and while a CoC may choose to use HUD funding to operate a TAY shelter, HUD’s priorities, scoring system, and incentive programs discourage it. For example, HUD’s desired outcomes focus on diversion, reducing the shelter stay, and moving chronically homeless individuals out of shelter. HUD’s refusal to recognize “couch surfing” and “doubled-up youth” actually prolongs their instability, disrupts their education, and increases their risk for substance abuse and survival sex. These youth are at the proverbial “tipping point” in their young lives. Left to fend for themselves, they are likely to continue down a path to homelessness, poverty, and crime, but with appropriate and timely interventions, they aremore likely to choose the path to independence and self-sufficiency.
If HCYA were enacted, it would open the door for further discussion and future planning to meet the unique needs of youth.