Homeless Children and Youth in New York
by Aaron Wrench, Forsaken Generation Operations Director
Parents, we tuck our children in safely each night, giving them a kiss on their forehead, saying "sweet dreams" and telling them how much we love them. Some of us do this each night and rarely think of children without a parent, without a kiss, or without a place to sleep. However, the grim reality is that there are millions of homeless American children. On April 1 Governor Cuomo plans to cut all funding for programs in New York State working to house and support homeless children and youth, potentially sending thousands of children back onto the streets. We want the people of New York State to stop Governor Cuomo from cutting funds that house, support, and advocate for our homeless children and youth.
The United States has over 1.5 million homeless children, some studies suggest up to as many as 2.8 million. According to The National Center on Family Homelessness, New York State is currently ranked the 12th worst state in the nation with over 45,000 homeless youth, over 18,000 of those under the age of 6. The state is plagued with inadequate policy and planning efforts as it relates to child homelessness. While Cuomo intends to cut the funding going to these organizations there is a major need to increase it. Not only is it un-American, but it's inhumane to sit back and watch these children be thrown back onto the streets with little to no support. It is critical to act now, every voice matters.
New York State has funded programs through the Runaway Homeless Youth Act (RHYA) since 1978. Funding has provided youth shelters, outreach, crisis intervention, case management, basic needs such as food and clothing and many other services for homeless youth across the state.
In 2007, the state was supporting services for approximately 70 programs with an appropriation of $6.8 million. Between 2007 and 2010, the amount was reduced 30 percent due to state budget problems, to the current $4.7 million. "It is not possible to cut any further and still maintain safe services. Programs are already turning away the increasing number of youth who are ending up homeless," says Margo Hirsch, Executive Director at the Empire State Coalition.
"Governor Andrew Cuomo recently took office and he is already poised to make one of the most disastrous political decisions in New York State history," said Aaron Wrench, Operations Director for Forsaken Generation. In the proposed budget expected to be finalized by April 1, 2011 the Governor has proposed all funding to the RHYA (Runaway Homeless Youth Act) to be cut. The NYS Assembly and Senate have passed a budget slashing 50% to the RHYA which would reduce funding to $2.4 million, but if Governor Cuomo has his way, all of the funding will be cut.
These cuts will throw thousands of New York children out onto the streets robbing them of shelter beds and a chance at rebuilding their lives. A study done by the United States Justice Department stated that 1 in 3 homeless teens that are on the street will be forced into prostitution within only 48 hours. If these cuts are made and children are forced back out onto the streets, the results will be catastrophic.
Since the funding has been provided through the RHYA, it has enabled the identification, assistance, housing, and stabilization of tens of thousands of homeless children each year. "These programs turn young people's lives around by providing shelter; re-connecting them with family, where appropriate; teaching them how to live independently; connecting them with education and employment; and overall fostering their growth at becoming successful adults," said Andrew Peters, Associate Executive Director for the Long Island Crisis Center.
New York should be a model for opportunity and a place where the people and the government support one another to succeed in life and to be responsible citizens. To cut all funding to these programs can potentially have grave consequences. Children that are forced to the streets are at extremely high risk of sexual exploitation, violence, drug abuse, health risks, as well as significant educational challenges.
Over the summer of 2010, a shelter in Brooklyn, New York took in two 12-year-old twin boys, Brad and John, with a plan of placing them together in the foster care system. Their home situation was unsafe and the shelter system was the only option for keeping them together.
Throughout the thirty days that Brad and John stayed at the shelter they ate a well balanced diet, showed signs of improved health through regular physical activity, improved their education levels through the summer tutoring program, and both learned to swim through staff instruction. "For the twins, the shelter was the only place they could safely go until their long-term living situation could be stabilized. It was a much needed oasis in the desert of turmoil that was their lives," said Margo Hirsch. Leah, who was fourteen years old upon entering a shelter, was an abused child who was being hurt almost daily. "I had no one to turn to, no one would listen, and no safe place to go," says Leah.
Through a community member she had met, Leah found a shelter that she could call home. A safe, caring place where there was no worry of abuse. Leah said that, "for the first time in my life, I realize that not everyone is out to hurt me."
Leah, Brad and John are just a few out of thousands of young people who will be impacted by the decision of New York State to make drastic budget cuts designed to help homeless children.
Time is of the essence since a budget could be finalized within a matter of days. As residents of New York State you can voice your opposition to these proposed cuts. We urge you to please contact the following people.
Please call the officials below to voice your disapproval:
- Governor Andrew Cuomo (518) 474-8390
- Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (518) 455-3791
- Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (518) 455-3171
- Senator Joseph Robach (877) 854-2687
You can also visit www.forsakengeneration.com/actnow and follow the links to also contact these representatives via an online contact form. You will also find Twitter and Facebook links to some of these representatives as well. We encourage you to communicate with them in every way possible.