Lawmakers put spotlight on youth homelessness
© Getty Images

House lawmakers weighed efforts to combat youth homelessness and pushed for more federal funding to address the issue at a hearing on Tuesday before the House Education and Labor Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Human Services.

The hearing, which focused on the difficulties faced by homeless youth and those in their communities working to address their needs, highlighted the bipartisan support for tackling those challenges.

"Our deeper understanding about the causes and factors surrounding youth homelessness demand an updated approach to handling this public health issue," said subcommittee Chairwoman Suzanne BonamiciSuzanne Marie BonamiciPelosi, Blumenaur condemn 'egregious abuses of power' by Trump against Oregon protestors Federal agents deployed to Portland did not have training in riot control: NYT US attorney calls for investigation into unmarked federal agents arresting protesters in Oregon MORE (D-Ore.) to open the hearing.


“Our children are this country’s most valuable asset, they are also the most vulnerable in our society," said committee ranking member James ComerJames (Jamie) R. ComerHillicon Valley: GOP lawmaker says 'no place in Congress' for QAnon after supporter's primary win | Uber CEO says app could temporarily shutdown in California if ruling upheld | Federal agency warns hackers targeting small business loan program Top Republican criticizes Twitter's briefing on massive hack Lawmakers press Lockheed to pay back Pentagon for F-35 issues MORE (R-Ky.) in his opening statement. "As lawmakers we must help protect American youth from homelessness and the danger it presents."

The committee heard from witnesses who urged lawmakers to offer more financial resources.

Among those testifying was David Baker, a support specialist for YMCA Youth and Family Services, who grew up in a family where multiple generations experienced homeless. As a teen, Baker ran away to live on the streets, believing it was preferable to the life offered in traditional homeless shelters. While in college, Baker lived out of his car before receiving help through federally funded youth homelessness programs.

“Through programs funded by the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act I was given the foundation to build a life of prosperity," Baker told lawmakers. "I was given a chance to change my family history forever. Today, I ask you to please make that a possibility for every youth, because they deserve it.”

The law, passed in 1974, established federal programs to address the issue, including the creation of the Runaway and Homeless Youth Program (RHYP), which includes a host of measures from safety hotlines and educational help to short-term and longer-term housing.

The subcommittee also heard from Dr. Melinda Giovengo, CEO of YouthCare, a program that provides shelters and trauma counseling to homeless youth in the Seattle area.

Giovengo spoke to the importance of outreach and transitional living centers funded by the RHYP as the first line of prevention between homeless youth and trafficking, and called for greater financial support for these services.

“4.2 million young people in our country are experiencing homelessness. That number is staggering and unacceptable. Without targeted intervention it also represents a pipeline to chronic adult homelessness, yet life-saving services are woefully underfunded,” she said.

Democrats on the panel echoed Giovengo's calls for more funding for the programs that helped Baker.

“I’m looking at what federal funding is and I’m hearing the number $30 per homeless youth per year, and I’m embarrassed that I’m sitting here even having this discussion because it is nothing what the federal government is providing,” said Rep. Kim SchrierKimberly (Kim) Merle SchrierWashington Rep. Kim Schrier wins primary US ill-prepared for coronavirus-fueled mental health crisis Gun control group rolls out House endorsements MORE (D-Wash).

Bonamici also highlighted the increased threat of homelessness for Latino, African American, LGBTQ and Native American young people.

Rep. Jahana HayesJahana HayesMichelle Obama wishes Barack a happy birthday: 'My favorite guy' Gun control group rolls out House endorsements Human Rights Campaign rolls out congressional endorsements on Equality Act anniversary MORE (D-Conn.) and Giovengo also raised concerns over the obstacles that youth experiencing homelessness face while attempting to complete their post-secondary education.

“I’ve worked so hard as an educator so many times to get kids through our high school system, get them enrolled in college, to get them on a campus,” said Hayes. "When the campuses are closed these kids are back in a situation and often can’t recover."

—Updated at 4:06 p.m.