Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) introduced legislation on Thursday aimed at mitigating homelessness among America’s youth — particularly those who may be forced from their homes because they identify as LGBT.
The legislation, known as the Reconnecting Youth to Prevent Homelessness Act, broadly addresses the issue of young people living on the street in addition to having provisions specifically related to the problem of LGBT homelessness.
“As a father, it’s a punch in the gut to imagine children living on the streets, but this year alone, one in fifty American kids will be homeless,” Kerry said. “There are common sense reforms we can implement to help make things better for LGBT youth.”
The LGBT-specific provision of the legislation directs the Department of Health & Human Services to develop programs to improve family relationships for LGBT youth and decrease their rate of homelessness. HHS is directed to conduct the programs for five years.
The programs include “behavioral interventions” designed to decrease rejecting behaviors for families with LGBT youth and assessment tools to identify LGBT youths at risk for ejection. In addition, HHS would also be directed to create family education resources to help families learn about behavior that could place LGBT youth at risk as well as alternative behavior to promote positive development.
According to a 2007 report from the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, the number of youth who become homeless or runaway each year in the United States ranges from 575,000 to 1.6 million — and around 20 to 40 percent of them identify as LGBT. Given that between 3 percent and 5 percent of the U.S. population identifies as gay or bisexual, LGBT youth experience homelessness at a disproportionate rate.
In addition to setting up LGBT-specific programs at HHS, the Reconnecting Youth to Prevent Homelessness Act, also allows children to remain in foster care at least until they reach age 21; extends the timeframe foster youth have to use federal independence training programs; and ensures children in foster care receive the Social Security benefits for which they qualify due to the death of a parent or a disability.
The legislation has two co-sponsors — Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Mark Begich (D-Alaska) — and is pending before the Senate Finance Committee. Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.) is expected to introduce the House companion legislation in the coming weeks.
The bill is supported by 39 organizations, including the National Coalition for the Homeless; Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians and Gays National; the National Center for Transgender Equality; and the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network.