By Joseph Bayne
Having provided holistic care to runaway homeless youth in Western New York for more than 24 years, I have witnessed state and federal support continue to be sliced and diced.
Local community and faith-based providers to these youths around New York State are already cutting beds and letting go of staff. Our neighbors in Niagara County had to close their Transitional Living Program.
Those who provide for runaway homeless youth are the “catch-all,” often the last resort for adolescents who have aged out of foster care, who come from dysfunctional families, who have dropped out of school and, yes, some who have refused love and care by good parents.
Our programs for these youths are non-institutional, home-like, offering structure and mentoring. Our Transitional Living Program on Seneca Street in Buffalo is highly respected for the “tough love” approach, meaning we want our youth to grow/mature via our extensive Living Skills Program with daily adult mentoring. We expect them to finish school and/or gain or maintain employment, to become responsible contributing members of the community. We want them to have self-esteem and sufficiency, not to rely on government handouts.
Compare the cost of any of our programs for runaway homeless youth to those of the Erie County Holding Center, East Ferry Detention, foster care, government entitlements or state-run facilities, and the savings is astronomical. Yet since 2008, funding from the New York State Office of Children and Family Services is down 60 percent, despite pleas to Albany, with no help from our legislators or the governor.
The latest sad commentary on our society hit us from Washington and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Their new approach with the Emergency Solutions Grant is that shelters and transitional independent living programs are no longer needed. The money taken from us ($25,000 this year) now goes into a new, novel approach – a free apartment for young people.
Can most youths handle managing their own apartment today? The advertisement and requirements for these federally funded apartments right here in Buffalo are printed: No ID required, no requirement to remain sober/clean, no immediate need to seek employment. This is Washington’s new approach.
For those of us in the trenches, this is beyond absurd. Federal and state entitlements abound with little or no accountability of recipients, yet critical community services with positive outcomes are forced out of business. So much for our children and youth being considered our hope for the future.
Father Joseph Bayne is a member of the board of directors of the Empire State Coalition of Youth & Family Services.