This past summer, the City of Santa Barbara spent numerous law enforcement hours to diminish the homeless youth nuisance on State Street. The question now is, where are those young people now? If you look near the shrubbery at the beaches at night and near the freeway off-ramps and local parks, these kids can be seen congregating like gypsies, sharing the proceeds they panhandled throughout the day.
The Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act (RHYTPA, S. 2646) is a reauthorization that would provide additional federal grants to public agencies (as well as nonprofit private agencies) to provide street-based services to runaway and homeless youth and street youth who have been subjected to, or are at risk of being subjected to, sexual abuse, violence, trafficking in persons, or sexual exploitation. It also allows for extra funding for the provision of specified resources for gay and trafficked youth. The bill is currently sitting in the Senate with a 20 percent prognosis of passing next year and needs support.
It is not enough that California has one of the largest homeless youth populations in the country with over 200,000 of the 1.6 billion homeless teens in the U.S. More concerning is that Santa Barbara County has between 5,000 and 10,000 of these young people, a large percentage of whom are gay. Gay runaway homeless youth have the highest potential risk of being sexually exploited or trafficked and committing suicide.
There are currently only 15-17 beds available in Santa Barbara for homeless or placement youth, funded by the local YMCA and the county’s Independent Living Program in an effort to assist the foster care system and those who have aged out of that system. Further, the resources for runaway homeless LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual) and trafficked youth in Santa Barbara are slim to none. Pacific Pride Foundation’s staff provides street outreach and basic education in HIV and AIDS awareness and prevention. However, there are no specific resources to aid these youth in meeting their specialized needs.
Resources are more advantageous than moving street kids from State Street to beaches to jail to the $50 bill that buses them to other communities lacking services. Collaboration with the current homeless shelter resources, including Casa Esperanza and the Rescue Mission, would both benefit by incorporating specific resources to the gay and trafficked youth populations, but they need more funding. The RHYTPA would not only help fund these programs; the bill also requires that assistance with FAFSA applications and GED classes be made available, putting more of our runaway homeless youth in school rather than on the street.
With the approval of the RHYTPA, our county can redirect the homeless and runaway youth who have been removed from our streets and provide resources that would help them contribute to our community and our economy. Senator Dianne Feinstein is an avid sponsor and proponent in addressing human trafficking prevention, and she is aware of this upcoming and important issue.
Christina Kelley lives in Santa Barbara and is a student in USC’s master of social work program.