Meeting the Mental Health Needs of Runaway and Homeless Youth

There are an estimated 3,800 runaway and homeless youth in New York City at any given time, according to the Empire Coalition of Youth and Family Services. As with the adult homeless population, being homeless puts young people at greater risk of physical and emotional trauma which can lead to or intensify mental health issues. When left untreated, these mental health concerns can have a lasting impact on the life of a young person that continues into adulthood.

Runaway and Homeless Youth (RHY) services provide a young person with not only a safe place to stay, but also with links to much-needed mental health services and other important health, educational and workforce services. In New York City, the Department of Youth and Community Development funds and oversees RHY programs throughout the city. Unfortunately, because of overwhelming demand, RHY providers must turn away hundreds of youth from shelter beds each month.

On December 14, 2012, CCC testified before the City Council about the need for increased access to supportive housing, mental health services and family therapy for runaway and homeless youth and issued the following recommendations:

  • Create a funding structure at the City and State level to better meet the overwhelming need for NYC runaway and homeless youth services, including beds to serve the LGBTQ population. Each year runaway and homeless youth services are at risk of cutbacks leaving the stability of the system in question because funding for these services relies heavily on City Council restorations. The City must baseline the $12.6 million budget for runaway and homeless youth services to provide for a more stable and sustainable system. In addition, the City and State should work together to identify opportunities to expand the funding available for these critical services.
  • Increase availability of supportive housing for youth. Affordable housing combined with supportive services is a cost-effective way to keep runaway and homeless youth safe and off the streets while receiving essential services. The 2005 New York/New York III agreement set out to create 200 supportive housing units for youth with serious mental illness which to date have not been completed. CCC urges the City and State to ensure that units for young adults are prioritized as new supportive housing development plans are rolled out.
  • Ensure that homeless youth have access to sufficient mental health services. Obtaining mental health services can be challenging for runaway and homeless youth who must navigate a siloed system to identify, travel to, and prove eligible for services. These barriers are extremely discouraging for youth in need of mental health care. CCC recommends increasing access to mental health services for runaway and homeless youth by expanding on-site mental health services at RHY programs, co-locating mental health services at RHY service sites, and building collaborations among youth providers to share mental health resources.
  • Support family therapy interventions for runaway and homeless youth. The Family Therapy Intervention Pilot developed by the City’s Department of Youth and Community Development, the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City, Green Chimneys, and SCO Family of Services uses family therapy to increase acceptance of LGBTQ youth who are homeless or at risk of becoming so. As the pilot concludes, we recommend exploring the expansion of family therapy services for this population so that all runaway and homeless youth, including non-LGBTQ youth, have access to these services.


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