National Alliance to End HomelessnessNational Conference on Ending Homelessness, July 2011Workshop Improving the Response to Youth In and Out of the Juvenile Justice SystemFriday July 15, 2011, 930a-11aAdrienne Fernandes-Alcantara, Congressional Research ServiceMany homeless youths have been involved with the juvenile justice system, or are at risk ofinvolvement. Presenters will profile strategies to de-criminalize behavior of youth living on thestreet, engage youth to promote safety and stability, and identify mentors within and outside ofthe juvenile justice system. They will also cover methods of helping youth with records navigatesystems in order to get housing, employment, legal, and service needs met.Good Morning. I am Adrienne Fernandes-Alcantara, an analyst in youth policy with theCongressional Research Service, the policy research arm of Congress. Our mission is to providetimely, objective, and non-partisan support to Congress throughout the legislative process. Mywork focuses on youth development, runaway and homeless youth, youth “aging out” of fostercare, and missing and exploited children, including children who are victims of sex trafficking.Today’s panel focuses on the involvement of homeless youth with the juvenile and criminaljustice systems. This includes homeless youth who are at risk of entering the juvenile andcriminal justice system because they are living on the streets or another nonpermanent place. Italso includes youth who are leaving the juvenile and criminal justice systems and becomehomeless. Before I introduce the panel, I’m going to provide a brief overview of youth involvedin both systems.First, there are not a lot of good data on the number or share of youth who have been engaged inboth systems. Covenant House in New York City reports that approximately 30 percent of theyouth they serve have been detained or incarcerated (New York City Association, 2005).Homeless youth are vulnerable to having contact with the juvenile and criminal justice bothbecause their involvement in crime and their public presence in places like parks and streetcorners. Police often focus their patrols on areas where the homeless congregate and may arrestyouth for illegal but noncriminal activities such as sleeping in a public setting or loitering (Haganand McCarthy). As we’ll hear today from one of the panelists, running away is still considered acriminal offense in some location.Homeless youth are also vulnerable to having contact with police because of untreated mentalhealth disorders. One study concluded that homeless youth had significantly higher rates ofdisruptive behavior disorders (Robertson and Toro). Drug use is also prevalent among thehomeless youth population. A study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health ServicesAdministration (SAMHSA) found that nearly 30% had used marijuana and almost one-quarterused any illicit drug other than marijuana (SAMHSA, 2004). Mental health concerns and drugabuse can make homeless youth more visible to police.Homeless youth are also vulnerable to sexual abuse and exploitation. Runaway and homelessyouth may be perceived as easy targets for pimps/traffickers because they often cannot go homeand have few resources. One national study of homeless youth found that approximately 28% ofstreet youth and 10% of youth in shelters reported selling sex to generate money for basic needs--often referred to as survival sex (Ringwalt and Green, 1998).Those youth under the age of 18
would be considered victims of sex trafficking if they had sex with an adult in exchange for basicprovisions. (Shared Hope International, 2009). The Dallas Police Department is focusing effortson recovering child victims of trafficking and prosecuting their traffickers. The department hasfound a strong correlation between sex trafficking and runaway status: the more times a childruns away, the greater the likelihood that he or she will be victimized by a sex trafficker. (SharedHope)Further, some youth resort to illegal activity including stealing, forcibly entering a residence, andselling drugs. Youth often report engaging in these behaviors as part of their strategy forsurviving on the streets.In addition to homeless youth coming to the attention of law enforcement, youthful offendersmay became homeless. Every year, approximately 200,000 juveniles and young adults ages 10 to24 years are released from secure detention or correctional facilities and reenter theircommunities. They face significant challenges to reentry, including mental health and substanceabuse disorders and returning to communities with high rates of poverty, unemployment, andcrime. Some return to homes that are not supportive. Other youth are precluded from returninghome because of policies that prohibit individuals who have been convicted of certain drugoffenses and other crimes from living in public or Section 8 housing. These youth are vulnerableto becoming homeless or participating in other activities that could lead to their re-arrest (Toroand Dworksy, 2007).Having contact with the juvenile and criminal justice system can lead to formal sanctions thatinclude imprisonment, which can further limit youth’s prospects for gaining employment, gettingoff the street, and making a successful transition to adulthood.Patti Puritz, the Executive Director of the National Juvenile Defender Center, will start off thepanel, and will talk further about the long-term consequences that youth with a juvenile orcriminal record can face. She will also address the ways that runaway and homeless youthproviders can assist homeless youth with criminal and related issues.Next we will hear from Katheryn Preston, the Executive Director of the Georgia Alliance to EndHomelessness, about efforts in Georgia to decriminalize running away. Katheryn and otheradvocates in the state helped to pass the Runaway Youth Safety Act.Finally, Steven Samra, a Recovery Specialist with the Center for Social Innovation, will speak.Steven is based in Nashville and provides street outreach with youth and adults. Steven will talkfrom personal and professional experience about the challenges for homeless young people insurviving on the street and interacting with the police.Cited research:J.M. Greene and C.L. Ringwalt, “Pregnancy among three national samples of runaway andhomeless youth,” Journal of Adolescent Health 23, 370-377, 1998.P. Toro, A. Dworsky, and P. Fowler, Homeless Youth in the United States: Recent ResearchFindings and Intervention Approaches, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S.Department of Housing and Urban Development, 2007.Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration, “Substance Use among Youths Who HadRun Away from Home,” The NSUDH Report, July 2, 2004.
New York City Association of Homeless and Street-Involved Youth Organizations. State of theCitys Homeless Youth Report, 2005.C. Smith, S. Vardaman, and M. Snow, The National Report on Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking:Americas Prostituted Children; Shared Hope International, 2009.