WASHINGTON -- Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) on Tuesday reintroduced bipartisan legislation to curb youth homelessness, which affects 1.6 million teens throughout the country who are among the most likely to become victims of human trafficking and sexual exploitation. Senators Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) joined as original bill cosponsors.
Thirty-nine percent of the homeless population is under the age of 18, and the average age at which a teen becomes homeless is 14.7 years old. A 2013 study by the Convenant House offers startling details about the connection between youth homelessness and human trafficking. The Leahy-Collins Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act reauthorizes programs that help youth obtain housing, education and job training. The bill includes training for service providers to identify victims of trafficking, and it includes a new provision that prohibits grantees from denying services based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Leahy and Collins introduced similar legislation last year, which earned bipartisan support in the Judiciary Committee but stalled in the Senate. With winter snowstorms in New England and the Mid-Atlantic regions threatening the safety of thousands of Americans, the Senators said it is especially urgent that Congress pass this bipartisan bill.
“We often talk about human trafficking as an international problem, but the sad truth is that it is a major problem right here at home,” Senator Leahy said. “If we are to make a real difference to end modern day slavery, we must protect those who are most vulnerable and prevent the exploitation in the first place. We cannot simply focus on ending demand and arrest our way out of this problem; we must eliminate the conditions that make these children so vulnerable. Passing the Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act is an important step in that direction.”
“Despite the recent decline we have seen in chronic homelessness, there are still more than 1.6 million homeless teens in the United States,” Senator Collins said. “As Chairman of the Housing Appropriations Subcommittee, one of my goals is to address chronic homelessness. We must make sure our nation’s homeless youth have the same opportunity to succeed as other youth. The programs reauthorized by this bill are critical in helping homeless youth stay off the street and find stable, sustainable housing.”
Senator Booker and Senator Ayotte also urged the Senate to take up and pass the bipartisan legislation.
“No young person should face the pain and dangers of homelessness,” Senator Booker said. “In urban, suburban, and rural communities all over the country, many of these vulnerable youth deal not only with the obvious hazards of homelessness, but also fall victim to emotional and physical exploitation. We have a responsibility and moral obligation to help them. I am grateful to my colleagues Senators Leahy and Collins for their leadership in introducing this legislation which will provide a pathway to housing and the life skills these young people need.”
“No child should have to go without a home, yet right now in New Hampshire, one in every four homeless people are children. That’s a heartbreaking statistic,” Senator Ayotte said. “We need to find solutions to this pervasive problem, including strategies to address issues like human trafficking and sexual exploitation that can sometimes lead to or coexist with homelessness. By reauthorizing these critical programs, we can help families in New Hampshire and across the nation overcome homelessness and lead independent, fulfilling lives.”
The bill is supported by the National Network for Youth, the Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking, the True Colors Fund, the Center for American Progress, and the Human Rights Campaign, among many others.
A copy of the bill is available online.
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