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Opinion

Key bills for homeless youth

Members of the Coalition for Homeless Youth gather

Members of the Coalition for Homeless Youth gather with Council member Ritchie Torres on the steps of City Hall on Feb. 14 to urge support for various bills including one that would extend services. Photo Credit: Linda Rosier / Linda Rosier

The City Council is considering a package of bills that would improve services for runaway and homeless youth — help that can make the difference between getting a solid footing for adulthood and falling back into homelessness.

One bill would allow the use of city funds to serve young people up to age 25, instead of the current cutoff age of 21. Another would formalize a recent decision by the Department of Youth & Community Development to permit young people to stay in programs under contract with the city for longer periods, from a maximum of 60 days to 120 days for crisis programs and 18 months to 24 months for transitional independent living programs. And a third would require the city to collect data and design a system that can meet the needs of all homeless young people.

Many countries recognize a right to shelter, but not the United States. NYC is one of the few places in the country to affirm the right to shelter for adults. But people just beginning adulthood have unique needs that are not met by adult shelters.

I’ve spoken with young people who have found it hard to obtain resources and a place to stay as they’ve aged out of services. Many have benefited from specific services, such as counseling, job training and safe places to stay.

NYC has a range of services for LGBT youth. Due in large part to their families rejecting them because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, these youth are at a high risk of homelessness. Some studies estimate that up to 40 percent of runaway and homeless youth are LGBT.

Many young LGBT adults are anxious about using adult shelters, citing concerns about how transgender and gender non-conforming people would be treated by staff and other residents and concerns about physical and sexual assault by people who are much older.

The abrupt termination of services can be devastating. Scarlet, a 25-year-old transgender woman, told me she spent days doing drugs at Penn Station after being cut off from drop-in centers where she had stayed and seen counselors. “My self-worth and self-esteem and sense of importance just decreased as I got closer to aging out,” she said.

The bills before the City Council can help NYC meet the needs of young adults, and the council can help runaway and homeless young people obtain the support and resources they desperately need.

Ryan Thoreson is a researcher in the LGBT Rights Program at Human Rights Watch.

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