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Issue Brief: The Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (RHYA)


The U.S. Department of Justice estimated that in 1999, nearly 1.7 million youth had a runaway/throwaway episode. Youth consistently report family conflict as the primary reason for becoming homeless. Many are compelled to leave their home environments prematurely due to physical, sexual, or emotional abuse by others in the home. Others are forced out of the home due to parental disapproval of a pregnancy, parenting status, sexual orientation, school problems, or drug or alcohol use.

The Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (RHYA) programs are essential in preventing the victimization of homeless youth and ensuring their access to education, employment training, health care, drug and alcohol treatment, and other social services.


RHYA includes three basic programs, 1) the Basic Center program, 2) the Transitional Living program, and 3) Street Outreach.

The Basic Center program provides grants to community-based nonprofit and public organizations to support emergency shelter (no greater than 15 days) for youth under age 18, and provide counseling for youth and their families in order to assist them in reuniting with their families or connecting them to alternative supervised settings.

The Transitional Living program (TLP) provides grants to community-based nonprofit and public organizations to support longer-term residential supports (up to 18 months), as well as life skill supports to youth ages 16-21 who are unable to return home safely, in order to promote their successful transition to adulthood and self-sufficiency.

The Street Outreach program (a.k.a. the Sexual Abuse Prevention Program or the Runaway Prevention program) provides grants to community-based nonprofit and public organizations to support street-based outreach and education to runaway, homeless, and street youth who have been sexually abused or are at risk of sexual abuse. The program gets the most vulnerable youth off the streets and connected with services that will ensure a safe and healthy future.

The Runaway and Homeless Youth Act also establishes and authorizes funding for a national communications system for runaways and their families; regional training and technical assistance for RHYA grantees, youth workers, and other youth-serving agencies; an information clearinghouse; outcome and performance measurement; peer monitoring of grantees and youth development research and demonstrations.

The Runaway and Homeless Youth Act was reauthorized in October of 2003. The following significant improvements to better serve runaway and homeless youth were included in the reauthorized law.

  • The minimum of the funds that TLP can receive from the consolidated account (the appropriations line item that funds part of RHYA) was raised from 20 percent to 45 percent. Raising the minimum on funds that TLP can receive is essential to the growth of the program, which has seen increased demand over the last several years.
  • Longer-term residential services were extended for youth who have exceeded their 540 day time-limit in the program but have not yet turned 18 years of age. Such youth are now allowed to stay in transitional living programs until their 18th birthday.
  • Maternity Group Homes were added as a specific allowable use of Transitional Living Program funds.
  • Federal coordination was strengthened in order to provide youth with greater access to federally funded programs and services, including those under the Workforce Investment Act, Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act, Medicaid, and McKinney-Vento.s Education for Homeless Children and Youth.
  • A report was authorized on strategies to end youth homelessness and the evaluation of successful housing models within transitional living programs. The report on strategies to end youth homelessness will be jointly developed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness.
  • A new evaluation of the Transitional Living Program will be conducted to identify best practices and measure long-term housing outcomes of participants exiting the program.
  • The 20-bed maximum in Basic Centers may be exceeded when a state or local regulation requires a higher maximum to comply with licensure requirements for children and youth serving facilities.
  • Basic Center programs may not provide shelter to youth over age 18.