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Yarmuth Announces Major Legislation to Strengthen Programs helping Runaway & Homeless Youth

Introduction of five-year authorization comes after Louisvillians testify in Washington

(Louisville, KY) Today, Congressman John Yarmuth (KY-3) announced his new legislation to reauthorize and strengthen the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act, which is the main source of federal funding for disconnected youth outside of the foster care and juvenile justice system.  The current law expires at September 30, 2008.

“For too long, despite the best efforts from within the community, the government has been failing millions of kids,” Yarmuth said.  “Thanks to the work and expertise that we have right here in Louisville, the Reconnecting Homeless Youth Act will refocus our resources and give America a real shot to eradicate youth homelessness forever.”

“There are far too many young people that need help but are not aware of the services offered through runaway and homeless youth shelters,” said Sandy Bowen, executive director of National Safe Place.  “The reauthorization of the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act, with an increased appropriation, allows for additional outreach work to occur at local levels to prevent young people from running from home. Reaching youth earlier significantly impacts their opportunities for positive outcomes to difficult situations.”

“Funds from Runaway and Homeless Youth Act provide about 20 percent of our annual budget,” said Dennis Enix, Executive Director of YMCA Safe Place, “Without this funding source we would not be able to provide the support that young people and their families desperately need in our community.”

The bill’s introduction is the latest step in a process in which Louisville has played a key role.  Last July, Yarmuth invited Louisvillian, Rusty Booker, then 17, to testify at the Subcommittee on Healthy Families and Communities’ hearing on “Runaway, Homeless, and Missing Children: Perspectives on Helping the Nation’s Vulnerable Youth.” Rusty testified [click here to watch testimony] about his own experience with abuse, running away at the age of 12, his placement in five failed foster homes, and finally finding a path to independence with the help of Safe Place. 

“I had no family and no home and at this point, no future,” Rusty said in his testimony.  "When I got to the shelter the staff welcomed me. I felt safe for the first time in many years.” Rusty, now 18, is working toward his GED and plans to attend college soon.

“Each day we meet four or five new Rustys, and each year we serve approximately 800 kids and their families through our shelter,” said Bill Thompson, residential case manager for YMCA Safe Place Services who accompanied Rusty to Washington and first began working with him in 2002.  “Reauthorizing RHYA will allow us to not only better the services that already exist, but will allow us and other agencies across the country to serve more kids just like Rusty every year.”

Rusty’s testimony and a local forum the Congressman hosted on disconnected youth helped Yarmuth craft the Reconnecting Homeless Youth Act, which he will introduce this Tuesday with Congresswoman Judy Biggert (R-IL-13). 

This legislation reauthorizes and strengthens the federal runaway and homeless youth programs for five years, authorizing an increase of over 50 percent more than last year; $150 million for residential services and $3 million for runaway prevention.  The measure will improve outreach and preventative care, establish emergency management plans, and develop a national runaway and homeless youth research and evaluation agenda.