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Reconnecting Homeless Youth Act of 2008

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Mr. Speaker, I rise today as the lead Republican sponsor of H.R. 5524, the Reconnecting Homeless Youth Act of 2008. I am pleased to be here with my good friend the gentleman from Kentucky, Congressman John Yarmuth, as we consider this important bill reauthorizing and strengthening the Runaway and Homeless Youth Program, set to expire this year.

Mr. Speaker, each year, between 1 and 3 million children in the United States find themselves on their own and on the street. Throughout our Nation, local shelters, like NCO Youth & Family Services and Aunt Martha's in my district rely on Federal support to keep these children safe and off the streets.

Congress first enacted the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act in 1974 and has regularly reauthorized it to ensure a basic level of support for unaccompanied youth. To meet the needs of these children, the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act authorizes three major programs: The Basic Center Program, the Transitional Living Program and the Street Outreach Program.

The Basic Center Program, or BCP, provides youth with emergency short-term shelter, food, clothing, counseling and referrals for health care. The BCP seeks to reunite young people with their families whenever possible or to locate appropriate alternative placements. In 2006, BCP grantees served more than 48,000 youth.

The Transitional Living Program, or TLP, assists older homeless youth in developing skills and resources to promote their independence and prevent future dependency on social services. In 2006, TLP grantees provided services to more than 3,600 youth.

The Street Outreach Program provides emergency shelter and related services to young people who have been or are at the risk of being sexually abused or exploited. The goal of these efforts is to inform young people about services that can help them find suitable housing and address the problems that lead them to be on the street.

In 2006, the Street Outreach Program served over 619,000 youth. The bill before us today reauthorizes the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act through fiscal year 2013. Under the bill, the Department of Health and Human Services would establish grantee performance standards and provide a periodic estimate of the incidence of youth homelessness.

H.R. 5524 also creates a National Homeless Youth Awareness Campaign that will focus on increasing awareness about the issues facing runaway and homeless youth and the tools available for preventing runaway and homeless youth situations.

While the prevalence of homelessness is difficult to measure, it is estimated that about 5 to nearly 8 percent of youth experience homelessness each year. More can and must be done. The Reconnecting Homeless Youth Act will strengthen Federal efforts to keep our children safe and off the street.

I would like to take a moment to share the story of one of these kids, Dennis, a constituent of mine, whose life changed as a result of one of these programs strengthened in this bill, the Transitional Living Program. As a senior in high school, Dennis began to isolate himself from family and friends. He was diagnosed with a bipolar disorder, and even though he was prescribed medicine, he didn't take it. According to Dennis, he felt ``walled off to a point where it just crushes in on you, it was like someone turned off the switch. It was very, very difficult to see joy.''

After months of bitterly fighting with his parents, Dennis packed up his car and ran away. He stayed on the couch of friends and family for the remainder of his senior year in high school and continued to deteriorate.

Fortunately, that year, Dennis learned of the NCO Youth and Family Services Transitional Living Program, and he decided to use it for housing. He needed a place to stay. But the program was not just housing, it taught him to manage his disorder, as well as training and managing, budget, cooking and cleaning, monitoring his credit, applying for a job, securing transportation and locating an apartment.

The program helped Dennis secure a job, giving him the hope and determination to make something of himself. After successful completion of the Transitional Living Program, where is he now? Well, Dennis is an Army private serving honorably in Kuwait.

According to Dennis, without the program, he would be half dead now. He says, ``If I hadn't come to NCO, I think I wouldn't have made it.''

Because of the stories like this and the success that we have seen, I am really proud to join Mr. Yarmuth, my fellow sponsor, in support of this bill. This bill is about helping homeless children, and I strongly support it and urge its passage.

We need to start thinking about how to help families facing the prospect of homelessness because they are being squeezed by high energy prices, rising prices for gasoline needed to get to and from a job, for the food needed to feed their families and even for natural gas to keep their homes warm in the winter and for electricity needed to keep them cool in the summer, we are putting enormous pressure on the American families that can least afford it.

In addition to helping homeless kids, this Congress must take action to increase the supply of oil, reduce the price of gasoline and support the development of advanced energy technologies and alternatives to oil and gas.

Just this past weekend, the national average price of gasoline hit $4 a gallon for the first time. Well, I can assure you that for my constituents in the Chicago area, $4 for gas would be moving in the right direction. We have been paying well over $4 a gallon for weeks.

While I urge my colleagues to support this bill today, I also urge this House to take action to address the high price of energy generally and gasoline in particular, which, if left unchecked, will certainly increase the ranks of homelessness in the U.S.

With that, I thank my colleague, Mr. Yarmuth, for working with me to produce the bipartisan bill we are considering today.

Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.


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