An update to the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness’ Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness, released on September 12, provides more detail on what must be done for young people experiencing homelessness, including unaccompanied youth. The amendment to the 2010 Federal Plan is the result of extensive advocacy by the Law Center and our partners*, and includes many of the recommendations we put forth.
The federal plan, known as Opening Doors, is the first federal strategic plan to prevent and end homelessness. One of its four goals is to end homelessness among families, children, and youth by 2020. The Council says this amendment “provides further clarity on what needs to be done specifically for children and youth” in order to achieve that.
As a leader in protecting the rights of homeless children and youth, including unaccompanied homeless youth, the Law Center provided crucial guidance. Just last week, the Law Center released “Alone Without a Home,” a comprehensive guide to the laws in 50 states and six U.S. territories affecting unaccompanied homeless youth. The report provides recommendations for addressing the needs of the 1.6 million youth who experience homelessness without a parent or guardian each year. It suggests replacing laws that criminally punish homeless youth as runaways or truants with policies to divert them from court involvement. Secondly, it calls on states to expand access to services for unaccompanied youth, even without parental consent.
Opening Doors encompasses ten objectives grouped into five themes. One objective, under the theme of “Increase Economic Security,” originally aimed to “increase meaningful and successful employment for people experiencing or most at risk of homelessness,” which is certainly a laudable goal. However, it now also aims to “improve access to education” for this population. For children and youth, a stable education is not only a near-prerequisite to obtaining gainful employment later in life; it is also integral to their well-being, and a guaranteed right under federal law.
Another objective, under the theme of “Improve Health and Stability,” sought in the original plan to advance health and housing stability for youth aging out of systems such as foster care and juvenile justice. Again, all well and good – but what about the 1.6 million unaccompanied youth who experience homelessness every year, commonly through no fault of their own? The revised plan seeks to improve health and housing stability for this group, as well. It is here that the Law Center’s recent report, “Alone Without a Home,” will be particularly helpful.
The Law Center is pleased that our work has resulted in changes, but as Andy reminded us in his recent post, words alone don’t create material change. There remains much more work to ensure that these changes end up benefitting actual children and youth who are, or at risk of becoming, homeless.
- Mary Beth Morrissey, Development & Communications Associate
* Our partners include the National Association for the Education of Children and Youth (NAEHCY) and the National Center on Family Homelessness.