Cyndi Lauper and Others Raise Awareness of Youth Homelessness
Over 100 youth workers and members of the media gathered at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, on October 22 for “Ending Youth Homelessness: A Call to Action,” the Family & Youth Services Bureau’s hour-long celebration of the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act’s 40th anniversary. The event included the first announced results of FYSB’s first-of-its-kind study of the needs of street youth.
Emceed by Debbie Powell, FYSB’s Deputy Associate Commissioner, “Ending Youth Homelessness” featured three formerly homeless youth who have been helped by FYSB grantees. Grammy-winning singer Cyndi Lauper, a founder and board member of the True Colors Fund, was also on the panel.
“No young person deserves to experience homeless, especially because of their sexual orientation,” Lauper said prior to the event, which was broadcast live on C-SPAN. In her speech, she expressed sympathy for her fellow speakers, saying, “We need these kids. You never know who’s going to turn out to be what… I was one of the kids that benefited from one of these programs, and I think I’ve given back.”
The street-youth study drew on interviews and focus groups with 656 young people ages 14 to 21 in 11 cities. The executive summary of the study, released at the Press Club event, included the following findings:
- On average, youth become homeless for the first time at age 15.
- Interviewees spent an average of two years on the street, and more than 60 percent experienced some form of violence or sexual assault.
- More than 30 percent of interviewees identified as lesbian, gay, or bisexual, while 7 percent identified as transgender—in both cases, well above national rates.
The Runaway and Homeless Youth Act, which authorizes funding for FYSB’s system of emergency shelters, transitional living programs, and street outreach, was signed in 1974 to help homeless young people receive shelter and support rather than face criminal charges for running away. In 2013, more than 30,000 youth received a place to sleep, mental health and career counseling, family reunification services, and other supports from FYSB-funded programs.
“The federal government supports street outreach, emergency shelters, and longer-term transitional living and maternity group home programs across the country,” said Mark Greenberg, Acting Assistant Secretary of the Administration for Children & Families, at the event. “We do this to help young people move from homelessness to safe settings, and to help them complete their educations, get jobs, and when possible, return to their families."