|Jamie Powlovich - Executive Director, Coalition of Homeless Youth, and other advocates at City Hall.|
Homeless LGBTQ Youth and the organizations that support them will rally at the steps of City Hall on Tuesday to support the Runaway and Homeless Youth Bill Package, and will return to City Hall on Wednesday to pass out handmade Valentines, encouraging City Council Members to "Have a Heart" before the stated meeting.
While New York State has raised the age of eligibility for youth services to 25, many New York City youth programs are still forced to turn away youth after 21 due to the City's inaction.
On Tuesday, February 13th, I joined a group of advocates for a Rally/Presser to Support Runaway and Homeless Youth Bill Package at City Hall Park. Supporting organizations: Queerocracy, VOCAL-NY, Hetrick-Martin Institute, Ali Forney Center, The Door, Coalition of Homeless Youth, Covenant House NY, NYC Continuum of Care Youth Advisory Board, FIERCE.
Jamie Powlovich - Executive Director, Coalition of Homeless Youth – explained that before her current position, she worked for the New York City Administration for Children's Services, a governmental agency that provides welfare services to children and their families in the City of New York. When youth turned 21, workers with ACS regularly discharged the young people under their care into the shelter system. She still regrets that. Today, she argues young people need support until they are 24. That’s why she supports the Runaway and Homeless Youth Bill Package.
Carl Siciliano - Executive Director, Ali Forney Center and a frequent attendee at similar press conferences – noted that he was tired of these events. “I hope this is the last time we have to come to beg for services for LGBT youth. I’ve had enough of hearing about youth sleeping in the streets, or having panic attacks about fear of violence they encounter on the streets, or suicide attempts, or sleepless nights. I hope this is the end of us asking the city to do the right thing. Its fifty years after Stonewall and the homeless youth who lead the riots for gay liberation are still homeless, living on the streets.”
Background on the Runaway and Homeless Youth Bill Package:
· Extending the Age: Force DYCD to extend the age that RHY contracted programs are able to serve with city funding to 25yo (currently 21yo) as allowed by state law.
· Extending the Length of Stay in RHY programs: Force DYCD to extend the length of stay that runaway homeless youth are able to stay in contracted programs as allowed by state law. Although DYCD has already implemented this, it is important for the bill to pass, to make it law for future administrations.
· Awarding Runaway Homeless Youth the Right to Shelter: Formally grant runaway homeless youth the right to youth-appropriate shelter.
Tomorrow on Valentines Day, youth who are experiencing homelessness will be taking to the steps of City Hall to hand out homemade Valentine's Day cards to City Council Members before the Stated Meeting to encourage their support of homeless youth by supporting the Runaway and Homeless Youth bill package. The laws would help end youth homelessness in the city of NY.
Inside the City Hall, social worker Craig Hughes, delivered testimony at the
The New York City Council Committees on Youth Services February 13, 2018 Hearing.
I include it in total as it highlights the complexity of the problem at hand and the ways the city needs to do more to address this problem.
Thank you, Chair Rose, and members of the committee on Youth Services, for the opportunity to testify before you today. My name is Craig Hughes and I am a social worker and researcher who focuses on homeless youth matters here in New York City. I am testifying in support of each of the resolutions up for discussion today, though with particular concern on the matter of a right to shelter for RHY, which I unequivocally support. Like many others, I am exceedingly appreciative of Chair Rose’s decision to bring a hearing so quickly on RHY matters – it is a welcome change – as well as Speaker Johnson’s serious and established commitment to finally seeing-through legislative changes desperately needed to meet the needs of New York City’s runaway and homeless youth (RHY) population. As I will discuss below, I do not exaggerate in stating that Chair Rose, CM Torres, CM Gibson and Speaker Johnson have the chance to make historic change by intensely focusing on legislation that increases and improves the resources available to RHY right now. With that, I must note that enthusiasm is tempered due to a change in language in one of the proposed bills, which in its new form removes explicit support for a right to shelter for RHY. The right to shelter for RHY should not be a point of compromise – it should be the starting point of discussion. This testimony addresses the three bills, but also aims to provide some important context to City policies as they relate to RHY, and goes on to make recommendations for needed resources. Haphazard Interventions In beginning my testimony I’d like to give an anecdote from my own recent experience. This anecdote is minor, but it may help to illustrate the haphazard way the De Blasio administration has sought to aid homeless youth who survive on City streets. While working for a local agency, a colleague reached out to me because a young person, seeking services through a social service program elsewhere in the City, was trying to access an RHY bed and having difficulty. Unfortunately, the City has no sufficient central hotline or centralized emergency intake system for RHY beds. Rather, the policy is that a City official holds a cell phone and will take calls if a provider is having a difficult time finding a bed. Late last year, in testimony before the Council, a City official with DYCD testified to the following process for placing a homeless young person: We’ve put in place so many different steps for youth to get beds. […] If they are in need of a bed and they’re having difficulty, they can call me, and I make sure that that youth is placed in a bed. So these are steps that we’ve put in place for all of our programs in terms of making sure that no youth is without a bed on any given night. Now whether the programs take advantage of these particular steps that we’ve put in place, that’s something we have to work with them on to make sure that they do it better. But the thing is that we’ve put in place systems so that any youth at any given time can be placed in a bed. And that’s giving my number out, which they can call me… [CM Levin requests phone number] […] The number is, everybody’s ready? 1- C. Hughes, Testimony 2/13/2018 3 646-457-2705. And this phone works even when I’m on vacation where it can be accessible, so that I can communicate with my staff to make sure that they are doing their jobs assisting all of our providers get beds for any youth.1 Except, on the afternoon I am referencing, the official with the phone was home sick (as I later found out via email from the Deputy Commissioner). Before finding that out, I called the cell phone number mentioned above from both my work phone and my personal cell phone – but only a voicemail answered. I also called various numbers in DYCD’s RHY unit – no one answered. I sent emails to DYCD’s Deputy Commissioner and the official who testified to holding the relevant cell phone. Email and calls went unanswered until nearly two hours later – a second email I sent was only returned after I emailed the same DYCD officials and informed them that I had contacted Legal Aid about the issue; it took approximately 14 minutes to get an answer to my emails at that point. Suddenly, a City official was dispatched to find the young person a bed. Clearly we all get sick, and City officials are extremely busy by nature of their work. However, since City policy – as outlined in testimony above – is that this is the route through which a bed can be found if someone is experiencing difficulty, clearly this policy is insufficient. This past weekend, while writing this testimony, I called the City’s “Youth Connect” hotline – a toll-free number published on their website that purports to connect youth to resources. I work late, so it was about 1:00am on Saturday. This was the message I heard when I called: Welcome to Youth Connect, the resource and referral service for New York City youth, families and community-based organizations at the New York City Department of Youth and Community Development […] We are currently closed. If you are in need of a shelter and are under the age of 21 or are feeling stressed or in crisis please call the National Runaway Safeline at 1-800-786-2929 where someone is waiting to listen to your concerns and connect you to a network of resources. If you’re looking for information on DYCD services please visit our website at nyc.gov/dycd, or call us during normal business hours 9am-5pm Monday through Friday. And be sure to follow Youth Connect [online]. […] If this is an emergency please hang up and call 911. …Thank you for calling, your call is being directed to 311. What is that message saying? Well, first, someone seeking youth shelter is out of luck. Secondly, if they are in crisis they can hang up and call a national hotline. It is saying a lot of other things – but it is certainly not saying, “if you need a bed, here is a bed.” Clearly a business-hours-only hotline and an individual carrying a cell phone is not a sufficient intervention for linking homeless youth to youth-specific beds. Realistically, this is the smallest possible resource allocation the City could make, other than making no resource allocation. The entire functionality of an entry-point into youth shelter should not be subject to typical City business hours, or whether an official is home sick. But this is what happens.
With that example in mind, I also want to start my testimony with a more general point. It is important to note that, historically, the bar has been set remarkably low for expectations of what RHY resources will be made available. Accordingly, even meager improvements and expansions are often taken as reasonably scaled interventions, particularly by City officials. Celebration of the work done by the City in recent years – as crucial as that expansion of resources has been – should be placed in context to the scale of the need. If that is our point of comparison, then it is certainly no time to be self-congratulatory.
A Background of Municipal Indifference2 Runaway and homeless youth (RHY) have never been given sufficient resources in New York City. Since the current homeless crisis began in the late 1970s homeless youth have typically been the last attended to, and the least served. Their marginalization within the safety net can be seen in the City’s proactive efforts not to acknowledge their very existence. Going back to the early 1980s, City official’s butted heads with advocates on how many RHY walked our streets. Officials tended to argue that the numbers were unknown or small, and advocates tended to argue they were in thousands. 3 During the 1990s, the Giuliani administration commissioned an estimate of the size and needs of the RHY population, hiring well-known RHY and AIDS researcher Michael Clatts to conduct the study. When Clatts returned his data, with an estimate of some 20,000 homeless youth in New York City, officials suppressed the report – refusing to allow its release to the public. Findings were later leaked to reporters and related articles were subsequently published in the New York Times, the Village Voice and elsewhere.
The Bloomberg administration wasn’t much more interested in acknowledging the needs of these young people. Throughout the latter’s tenure, advocates fought back against the administration’s constant use of homeless youth resources as a sort of political football in budget negotiations.5 While the City Council helped fund the most reliable, realistic and respected study on the number of homeless youth, the Bloomberg administration never put up resources to match that need.
By the end of the Bloomberg administration, New York City had approximately 250 beds in its youth continuum, overseen by the Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD).7 It was only upon the end of his tenure that the Bloomberg. This background information has also been stated in previous testimony to the Council
That study was coordinated by the Empire State Coalition for Youth and Family Services (now the Coalition for Homeless Youth) and estimated that 3,800 youth were homeless in New York City on any given night, with 1,600 in some variation of street homelessness.
Mayor Bloomberg ended his tenure leaving Mayor De Blasio the largest crisis of housing and homelessness since modern homelessness began.9 Two days before Mayor Bloomberg left office, Legal Aid sued him for a right to shelter for homeless youth.10 That case, to the dismay of many, remains unsettled more than four years into the current administration. It’s conceivable that the piecemeal approach the City has taken to providing a bare minimum of resources for RHY is an effort to avoid settling that same suit. During the Democratic primary debates in 2013 a moderator asked a very difficult question: what funding would a given candidate, under no circumstances, cut? Mayor De Blasio’s answer shocked many of us serving and advocating for homeless youth: he would never cut services for runaway and homeless youth.
At no point had RHY matters been a focus of any mayoral candidate during the election season – in fact the population remained invisible even in discussions of the contemporary homeless crisis. Hopes were raised among advocates, providers and homeless young people. Unfortunately, the performance of the De Blasio administration summarily lackluster. While the Mayor has added desperately needed beds, the administration has not met, by any reasonable measure, the needs of this exceedingly vulnerable population. The legislation proposed today targets a few of the gaps in RHY services and policies under the De Blasio administration. However, it does not propose a right to shelter for RHY. Accordingly, the proposed legislation falls drastically short of meeting the needs of many of New York’s most vulnerable young people. Last year Governor Cuomo signed changes into RHY law that allowed for two major shifts in current policy.
First, in accord with federal definitions, the legislation changed the age that young people could receive services as homeless youth, from 20 to until their 25th birthday.13 Secondly, the legislation increased the amount of time young people could spend in crisis beds to 120 days and in transitional beds to 24 months. Part of the reason this legislation passed without significant pushback at the local level is because it gave municipalities the ability to opt-in on the change of age and length of time in RHY programs. Since the passage of this legislation, DYCD and Mayor De Blasio have – with significant pressure – extended the length of stay, though this is not yet written in law, which a proposed bill under consideration today addresses. The administration has not increased the age of youth shelter – it should do so immediately.
A study released in November of last year by Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago found that approximately 10% of young adults experience homelessness during a given year. Older studies, from approximately 20 years ago, estimated that up to 406,000 young people age 18-24 were homeless over a given year. There is good reason to believe that youth homelessness is increasing.14 Additionally, the aforementioned numbers do not include youth under 18 years old, which would substantially increase these figures. Research shows that NYC’s homeless youth are primarily youth of color. For example, CIDI’s 2015 survey of New York City homeless youth found that respondents were overwhelmingly youth of color – 4% of the respondents identified as white, while the vast majority identified as black or Latino. The same study found that about 49% of respondents identified as male and 46% identified as female. Studies show that between 30%-40% of homeless youth in New York City identify as LGBTQ. 15 CIDI’s 2015 study found that 10% of unsheltered homeless youth in New York City identified as transgender or as another gender outside of a M/F gender binary; nearly nine percent of “unstably housed” youth – homeless youth in various overnight situations – identified as transgender or as another gender outside of a M/F gender binary.
In 2017, New York City’s sheltered homeless youth ages 18-24 years old – that is, young people in emergency or transitional beds – comprised approximately 10.5% of the national 18-24 year-old unaccompanied and sheltered homeless youth population. New York City was home to nearly 29% of homeless 18-24 years olds who were parenting across the nation. In 2017, New York City was home to 71% of New York State’s 18-24 sheltered homeless youth population. Approximately 84% of New York State’s homeless 18-24 year old parents resided in New York City.17 We don’t have a reasonably sound estimate of the number of young people living in some variation of street homelessness – the closest we have is the 2008 Empire State (Coalition for Homeless Youth) study, now a decade old.
Framing The Issue: The City Should Focus on Resources and Clarify Numbers A significant reason for the De Blasio administration’s failure to adequately assist RHY is its embrace of a problematic philosophy that focuses more on “uncover[ing] reasons for family conflict” and relationships within the families of homeless young people than in providing them resources to access stability and exit homelessness. For example, the City’s 2017 plan to the State Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) explains a guiding philosophy of DYCD’s RHY programming: With regard to program services, DYCD expects providers to apply a range of strategies to attempt to achieve family reunification or improved family relationships. Case management services with youth that include such strategies are available from initial placement into crisis shelters, as well as in TIL programs and the drop-in centers. In each setting, follow-up services (communication and referrals) are provided after discharge for up to 90 days.
In the course of undertaking in-depth, comprehensive assessments, case managers at DYCD-funded RHY providers are expected to uncover reasons for family conflict and identify individuals, inside or outside the family, who could be potential sources of support for the youth in the future. Funded programs should also offer support and reassurance to increase confidence and make youth feel safe if they want to reach out to family members. In counseling sessions and psychosocial or life skills workshops, staff can facilitate discussions about common causes of family strife and why parents impose rules, model behavior through role play with participants, and highlight the benefits youth may gain by staying connected or reconnecting with family members. In some circumstances, they may also be able to act as mediators between the youth and their families.17 While some of this may be beneficial to some young people, the decision to focus more on repairing family relationships than on helping homeless youth access stabilizing resources – e.g. housing subsidies, priority access to public housing, benefits assistance, job placement – leaves many RHY stuck in homelessness. For reasons unclear, DYCD tends to overplay the success of reuniting RHY with families. For example, in the 2017 data reported in the annual Mayors Management Report (MMR), DYCD makes the ambiguous claim that 77% of youth in crisis shelters were “reunited with family or placed in a suitable environment from crisis shelters.” However, data produced by DYCD in response to FOIL requests tells a different story – one that raises serious questions about how DYCD is drawing its conclusions in the public presentation of its system. According to the FOIL’d data on crisis discharges from 2017, a total of 333 – of 3,444 – duplicated-discharges from crisis beds were reunited with family (“returned home”). DYCD’s MMR data reports that 88% of youth discharged from TIL beds in FY17 were “reunited with family or placed in a suitable environment from Transitional Independent Living (TIL) centers.” However, FOIL’d data shows that only a total of 68 – of 445 – duplicated discharges from TIL beds returned home. According to MMR Indicator definitions, DYCD defines the above categories (“reunited with family or placed in a suitable environment” from TIL or crisis beds) as the following: “The percent of youth, served through the Department’s Runaway and Homeless Youth Program [crisis or transitional] shelters, who make the transition to independence or return to their families."18 This definition makes DYCD’s numbers even more confusing. What does DYCD define as “a transition to independence”? For example, in 2017 the highest number of discharges from crisis shelters, according to DYCD’s own data, are youth who go back into crisis shelters; the second highest number of discharges were categorized as “Unknown/Self-discharge” (Please see Appendix 2 at the end of this testimony for the data provided via FOIL from DYCD). While both approaches are probably helpful – although it should be noted that many RHY do not seek to “reunite” with their biological family, and many continue to be close with their biological family, though unable to reside with them for varied reasons – the City’s ongoing decision not to invest in RHY access to permanency resources, and to reduce its conceptualization of youth homelessness to a matter of family conflict, has not resulted in many RHY exiting homelessness. Providing access to resources and investing in expanded resources to help young people access benefits systems, living wage jobs, and permanent housing may have the outcome of helping young people exit homelessness. Providing resources for case managers to actually assist young people with these processes is desperately needed.
Current Resources 1. Beds As of September 2017, the Department of Youth and Community Development’s (DYCD) youth continuum had 525 functioning beds. 19 As of September 2017 there were an additional 128 beds awarded, many of which were pending final authorization to open. Of the 653 total beds, 417 (64%) are TIL beds and 236 (36%) are crisis beds. Many of these beds are sub-population specific, including beds exclusively for LGBTQI-identified clients, young mothers and children, and some beds for young women involved in the sex trade. These beds include many of the initial beds that have come since 2016, when Mayor De Blasio announced his plans to add an additional 300 beds. Upon addition of all 300 beds, DYCD’s continuum will total 753 shelter slots for all homeless youth in New York City. Under current rules, including recent changes, DYCD crisis beds allow for a 60-day stay with the possibility of another 60-day stay if DYCD approves a request from a shelter provider. TIL beds allow for stays of up to 24 months. 2. Drop-Ins In addition to shelter beds, New York City funds drop-in centers in each borough. In Manhattan there is one 24-hour drop-in, which provides services exclusively to LGBTQI youth. In Queens a 24-hour drop-in also recently opened. The remainder of currentlyrunning youth drop-ins are open at varied hours, but no other drop-in centers are open 24 hours.20 3. Outreach New York City funds two late-night street outreach programs, which are administered by a single agency. DYCD has reported that in FY16 it served 11,737 RHY via Street Outreach programs in FY16.21 DYCD-funded and other municipal outreach teams are not formally connected to each other. Providers often point out that youth-specific outreach has impressive competency with engaging homeless youth while other homeless outreach programs are not particularly adept at engaging this population. 4. Housing
There are some housing resources available to homeless youth relying on DYCD resources. For youth suffering from serious and persistent mental illness who are chronically homeless, at any given time a young person may be able to access a supportive housing unit constructed via the NY/NYIII agreement.22 In April of 2017, the administration announced plans to provide RHY relying on DYCD resources with access to local rental subsidies (e.g. LINC).23 The administration has not yet provided this access. When asked, the City (questionably) laid most blame on the State for holding up approval for reforms to the City’s rental subsidies, stating: The City is committed to this goal. We have been working with HRA and incorporating feedback from DYCD-funded providers. As part of the process to make this opportunity more widely available, the subsidy overall is being streamlined. Considerations for homeless youth in DYCD-funded programs has been written into that process which is currently at the State for approval. There will also be a city process, and additional coordination to flag individual eligibility within our data systems.24 Only a marginal number of youth aging out of foster care are placed into public housing (NYCHA) units, and homeless youth reliant on the DYCD resources do not have priority access to public housing. 25 Homeless youth reliant on the DYCD resources do not have access to Section 8 resources, with the exception of a marginal number who access Section 8 aid through supportive housing. Homeless youth reliant on the DYCD still do not have access to local rental subsidies. Simply put, most RHY have virtually no way to sustainably exit shelter or street homeless. 5. Mental Health Services Under the current administration, and through New York City’s Thrive NYC initiative, there has been an increase in funding for mental health services through DYCD programs.26 New York City has provided both shelters and drop-in centers some funding for mental health assistance, which providers have used to fund therapists and psychiatrists for medication aid and evaluations to be in used for supportive housing access. Gaps in Resources How Many Homeless Youth Are There? While it is important to note that some work has been done to grant RHY resources, applause should be tempered by the vast scope of the youth homeless crisis and, given that, how little the City has really embraced young people on our streets. This begins with simply acknowledging the number of homeless youth sleeping in desperate situations
Advocates have long argued that the current administration’s efforts to tally homeless youth has been overwhelmingly under-resourced and questionable in methodology.27 Because of problematic methodology decisions and a refusal to seriously invest in a counting effort, New York City’s main social service research arm, the Center for Innovation Through Data Intelligence (CIDI), has found itself arguing that there are less than 150 street-homeless youth on a given night in New York City.28 Numbers like these, which impact the resources made available for this population, are outrageous on their face. And if they are used to determine needs in capacity planning, the resulting capacity plan would start from a point of absurdity. The 2008 count of RHY, funded in part by the City Council, estimated that on any given night 3,800 homeless youth were homeless in New York City. Since 2008’s financial crisis, homelessness in New York City has substantially increased.29 There is ample reason to believe that the number of homeless youth, like the rest of the homeless population, has also increased. Given the deep reluctance on the part of the administration to conduct a realistic population count, the City Council should again fund a serious count of RHY using a methodology far more practical and realistic than that currently by the City, particularly in its HOPE effort. Shelter Beds For homeless and runaway youth under 21 years old, youth-specific crisis beds are a lifeline. These beds help young people get off the streets or out of abusive situations, and into a warm place where they can eat a hot meal, sleep in a warm bed and engage with youth-competent social service providers. The City’s decision to implement an extension on the stay in crisis shelters and TIL’s was desperately needed. As importantly, the current age-restriction – which means that young people under age 21 must leave the DYCD system upon their 21st birthday – pushes many young people out of helping services before they can truly get the most from them. Data released by the City showed that in FY2017, 30% of discharges from crisis shelters went back into a shelter, while 23% simply disappeared. Twenty-three discharges – total, not percent – were of young people moving into their own apartments.30 Approximately 12% of young people moved from crisis shelter into some formulation of “Other Residential Care/Supportive Housing.” Even if we assume that all those going into “Other Residential Care” are in fact moving from crisis shelter into supportive housing, if we combine that number with young people going from crisis shelter into some sort of their own housing (i.e. combining the latter discharge-category with the 23 young people moving into their own apartments), only a total of approximately 13% moved into some variant of permanent housing. Put another way, the DYCD crisis shelter system discharged 87% of clients into some variant of homelessness, institutionalization, or off to the four winds. Fit is of note that the FOIL’d numbers are duplicated, so this could include, in theory, the same young person more than once. Given the very small number, the author is assuming this does not include the same young person more than once. While crisis beds tend to be a revolving door, some young people do exit crisis beds into the City’s transitional (TIL) beds. In FY17, approximately 18% of crisis discharges were made into longer-term TIL beds. Unfortunately, given the dearth of long-term housing options, most of these youth didn’t fare better when they were discharged from transitional beds. Of 445 TIL discharges in FY2017, approximately 16.6% were discharged back into DYCDcrisis shelters. Another 10% went into the adult shelters. More than 22% moved in with friends or relatives. Approximately, 12% accessed their own apartment, which the same number who simply disappeared from services (11.9%). If we add all those who moved into their own apartment and those who were discharged into “Other residential care,” we find that approximately 12.6% of youth discharged from TIL beds moved into some variant of permanent housing. If we add all those discharged into a crisis or transitional shelter, discharged into incarceration or hospitalization, or going into another type of shelter, we find that approximately 38% of youth discharged from “transitional” beds transitioned into homelessness or crisis. Housing Resources A major issue that homeless youth confront is the lack of permanent housing options available to them when they are trying to exit DYCD’s RHY system. As mentioned above, youth relying on DYCD’s resources do not have access to the rental subsidies put in place by the current administration for other homeless populations. They do not have priority access into federal resources like NYCHA and Section 8 subsidies. Many RHY who the City deems eligible for supportive housing are not able to access a unit – this is due largely to the dearth of available units, but it is also the outcome of provide-level creaming of eligible applicants at the supportive housing level, which the City has facilitated for years. Without long-term housing options youth remain homeless in one form or another. Lack of housing and financial poverty may mean increased involvement in survival sex or other high-risk engagements in the street-economy. It is well known, among providers and many others, that many young people who exit the DYCD system find themselves involved in survival behaviors in efforts to get by, which is directly in relation to avoiding the dangers they or those in their community have experienced in the adult shelter system. Public Benefits Systems Another major issue that homeless youth confront is the lack of support with navigating public benefit systems. Anyone who has worked with homeless youth knows that they are often treated badly in mainstream benefits programs. Negative experiences with public assistance systems lead many youth to avoid them and seek alternative sources of income, which often includes engagement in survival sex and other sectors of the street economy. For youth experiencing disabilities, particularly those related to mental health, accessing long-term disability benefits is exceedingly difficult. The Social Security Administration denies most federal disability (SSI or SSDI) applicants on their initial applications, and accessing a youth-competent attorney to support in an appeal process is often just as hard.31 DYCD does not provide funding for assistance for navigating public assistance programs, and does not provide assistance for disabled youth to access federal disability
Unsurprisingly, many of these youth find themselves going years without the benefits they need – if they ever get them. LGBTQI Competency Finally, LGBTQI youth, particularly transgender young people, are simply often not safe in the adult shelters and, often times, in the RHY programs. There is significant reason to believe that this is one factor as to why so few discharges from DYCD shelters are made into the adult shelter system but not out of homelessness. On this matter, DYCD deserves significant credit – the agency has sought to make resources available to homeless LGBTQI youth that no other administration has. However, applause is tempered. While there is certainly a need for LGBTQI-exclusive services, there is much work to be done to ensure that all RHY programs function in full embrace of LGBTQI identities. We must ensure that young people who enter the door at any RHY program are supported in finding and being who they are and determining their gender and sexual orientations. Mental Health Supports Undoubtedly, the City’s investment via Thrive NYC is significant. Unfortunately, it is simply too low and needs to be increased, and funding for mental health supports for RHY should be permanently added to the DYCD budget. As shown below (Appendix 3), Thrive NYC mental health funds budget for assistance to 564 young people across six separate youth drop-ins. However, some drop-ins serve that many young people in a handful of months. Similarly, these funds budget for assistance to 216 youth in crisis shelters, but the City serves many, many more young people each year in its crisis shelters. Finally, these funds budget for 309 youth served through TIL beds. However, TIL beds serve far more young people than this. While the $2.2 million allocation by the City is an important intervention, there is a significant need for further investment in mental health supports, as well as case management supports. The De Blasio Administration’s Policing Strategy Harms Homeless Youth Unfortunately, given the reality of homelessness right now, it would be insufficient not to address what happens to those young people who are surviving on the streets of the five boroughs. New York City’s working class and poor residents – overwhelmingly people of color – continue to experience housing, labor market and public benefit dynamics that are producing homelessness. Street homeless individuals continue to experience harassment by police. The Mayor’s commitment to the ‘broken windows’ philosophy of policing results in the continued criminalization of poor and working class people, primarily people of color. Homeless young people – overwhelmingly youth of color, across the board extremely poor in wealth, disproportionately LGBTQI, and all in their younger years of life – experience the implementation of Mayor De Blasio’s commitment to racialized policing practices both violently and acutely.32 A relatively recent pronouncement regarding turnstile jumping is particularly illustrative of how the Mayor’s policing philosophy impacts the lives of homeless young people.
A recent New York Times article quoted Mayor De Blasio as stating: “A lot of people who commit fare evasion and the police encounter have a lot of money on them.” De Blasio continued, “I think I have a lot of validity on the question of income inequality and how we fight it, but you never heard me say, you know, open up the gates of the subway for free. That’s chaos.” Mayor De Blasio’s comments ring remarkably tone-deaf and inaccurate in regards to homeless young people. A 2015 training manual by the Association of Pro Bono Counsel has a section for lawyers serving RHY in its most recent manual focused specifically on transit violations because of the significant connection between RHY survival and access to public transit.33 A decisive study discussing the matter, published by the Urban Institute, stated the following: The vast majority of offenses for which the youth were arrested and charged were similar to those reported by the young woman quoted above: quality of life crimes (e.g., jumping the turnstile, carrying open containers, and trespassing) and other misdemeanors (e.g., marijuana possession, shoplifting, and violating a court order). More often than not, these crimes were associated with the young person being homeless or impoverished and not having the resources to, for example, pay for subway fare or access stable and safe housing.34 As recent research by the Community Service Society has made so clear, and as organizers and activists in New York City have been stating for years, targeting those who jump the turnstile is a matter of the intersections of racism, class oppression, heterosexism and policing philosophy.35 Homeless youth, particularly youth of color and LGBTQI youth, often find their way into contact with the police, jails and courts in part because of policing that targets crimes of poverty. It is also important to note that many cisgender and straightidentified homeless young people – particularly youth of color – also experience police engagement due to crimes of poverty, like turnstile jumping. Turnstile jumping, or “fare evasion,” is only one example of many that could be given to show how the police targeting of survival crimes brings homeless young people into interactions with the criminal justice system. Current Legislation It seems important to note from the outset how disappointing it is to see that Speaker Johnson has dropped language in a preceding and similar bill (Int. 1700), which would have implemented a right to shelter for RHY.36 While Speaker Johnson initially called for a right to shelter – Int. 1700 simply stated: “The department shall provide shelter services to all runaway and homeless youth who request such shelter from the department” – the bill language has now been rewritten for the new bill being considered today, and now mandates that “the department shall develop and submit to the speaker of the council and post on its website a plan to provide shelter services to all runaway youth and homeless youth who request such shelter from the department…” This is a full backtrack from a bill calling for a right to shelter. Additional comments on each bill are below: • Preconsidered Int: In relation to time frames for runaway and homeless youth shelter services (CM Gibson & Speaker Johnson). This bill extends the length of time that RHY can stay in shelters (crisis and transitional). The City has recently implemented an extension of shelter-stays. However, this should be written into law to prevent any changes that may come with budget woes or future administrations that are hostile to welfare expenditures and unsupportive of homeless services. • Preconsidered Int.: In relation to runaway and homeless youth services for homeless young adults (CM Torres & Speaker Johnson). This bill increases the shelter-access age through 24 years old. Youth-specific shelters are more attuned to the needs of homeless youth than the adult shelter system is. The adult shelter system’s diversionary model is particularly problematic in regards to supporting young people. Decisively, to ensure providers are not tasked with the City’s job, language in the bill should be explicit in ensuring that DYCD is responsible for providing the necessary resources, and not providers. Given that at least one DYCD official has publicly stated they do not support raising the age of RHY shelters unless there is additional money, there is reason to be concerned that this vague language could put this demand on providers rather than DYCD. DYCD’s budget should be increased to ensure this need can be met. • Preconsidered Int.: In relation to shelter for runaway and homeless youth (Speaker Johnson). This bill would require necessary reporting by DYCD. However, the language should be made clearer in various sections. A guidepost for considering changes to the reporting would be the use of the categories found in Appendix 2, which shows the way DYCD currently breaks down this data. Some specific edits to this language should include: 1: The “service needs of the current population” should explicitly state public benefits such as SNAP, Medicaid and cash assistance; youth accessing DSS’s WeCare program for individuals with limitations in work; youth receiving, or in application or appeals processes for disability benefits; youth needs for legal support, whether criminal or civil. 2: DYCD already reports on much of this data (see, for example, appendices below) but does not voluntarily make it public and does not de-duplicate it in ways that are easily understandable. Further, the reporting options for discharge-types are confusing in combination – for example, the “Other Residential/Supportive Housing Category.” This section should explicitly state that this data should include unduplicated individuals by discharge-type. This section should expand its discharge categories to include other shelter systems beyond DHS. This section should include a separate category for supportive housing, and ideally by supportive housing type. This bill would also request DYCD to develop and design a capacity plan. However, this is a far cry from a right to shelter, and given the City’s refusal to invest in a realistic count of RHY, this kind of bill language is not likely to result in the necessary resource allocation. This bill language does not mandate the City to provide age-appropriate shelter on demand. The language in the bill relies on the use §21-404 of the City’s administrative code, which specifies data contours for a forthcoming and ongoing report of youth shelter turnaways. While this information is decisive for planning, it does not provide sufficient information from which to develop a capacity plan. To adequately develop a capacity plan there will need to be some sense of the number of RHY in the City. The City only accepts its own – remarkably austere, problematic, and entirely questionable – data on that matter. As mentioned above, the City chooses not to invest in an accurate count of homeless young people, so we cannot expect that any capacity plan relying on DYCD’s – or DHS’s (HOPE) – numbers will result in a realistic resource allocation. We can expect that relying on current City methodologies and numbers will result in an insufficient resource allocation for RHY, continuing many of the same issues that underlie this hearing. A right to shelter for RHY is necessary to ensure that a young person is never turned away from a safe place to sleep. Additional Needs While I testify in strong support of the legislation currently under discussion, there are additional needs for resources targeted to the RHY population that are not yet being legislated. Some key needs are as follows: • Investment In Shelter Placement Mechanisms: As discussed at the beginning of this testimony, the City has a haphazard and remarkably insufficient system in place for helping RHY access a bed on demand. One immediate step the City should implement is a 24-hour hotline solely for the purpose of connecting RHY to outreach, beds, and other crisis resources. • Housing resources: New York City must provide RHY with resources to exit youth homelessness before it becomes chronic adult homelessness. These resources include access to local rental subsidies and equitable and fair access to supportive housing for those who are eligible (e.g. the City should end its facilitation of creaming by providers, and providers should be prevent from creaming). This would also include priority access to NYCHA and Section 8 subsides. Additionally, New York City must fund housing specialists in all RHY facilities to ensure that youth have housing assistance at every turn. Currently, the City is awaiting state approval of its proposal to change its rental aid programs, which DYCD has stated will include RHY. However, the details are unknown and there is reason to believe, from previous statements by City staff, that this language will only include youth in DYCD shelters. These resources should be made available through DYCD drop-in centers, where many older RHY access assistance. Assistance with benefits: New York City must provide RHY with resources for navigating and advocating with the public benefits programs. This includes funding services for attaching RHY to Medicaid, SNAP and cash assistance where needed. As importantly, the City must provide assistance for attaching RHY to local and federal disability programs. • LGBTQI-competency: New York City must ensure that all services providers interacting with RHY are trained in LGBTQI competency. Thorough competency in serving LGBTQ youth must be reinforced for every program and all City personnel engaging RHY. • Additional mental health supports: While the Thrive NYC Program has assisted with some resources for RHY, there is a significant need for an increase in mental health services provided to RHY. This includes an increased number of therapists and psychiatrists funded by the City to engage this population. Thank you for listening to my testimony. I look forward to any questions you may have.