Analysis

Paul Ryan’s Push for Workforce Development Is a Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

Earlier today, Politico reported that House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-OH) appears to be attempting to repackage cuts to Medicaid, food assistance, and affordable housing as “workforce development.” If it were a sincere effort, the idea of offering more workforce development would make sense: It’s good for workers, and it’s actually a popular idea (Ryan himself has acknowledged that openly calling for Medicaid cuts was “not a great buzz phrase.”)  However, it seems that this is the latest rebrand of the same old proposals to slash essential benefits for struggling families that Ryan has touted for years.

It’s especially insincere, given the Trump administration’s proposal to gut existing workforce development programs. Its 2018 budget cut funding for the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act by 43 percent, which would cause 571,000 workers to lose job training and job search assistance. President Trump is also in the process of advancing an apprenticeship proposal that would lead to a proliferation of low-quality programs that don’t offer job-relevant skills or decent wages.

For his part, Ryan seems to be confused about what workforce development actually entails. He told his caucus last night that it needs to “focus on closing the skills gap” by training unemployed workers to take currently open jobs. This incorrectly assumes that a lack of skills is the only thing that’s keeping workers out of the labor market—it’s possible that workers are struggling to find good jobs that pay decent wages. Indeed, 2017 saw the slowest job growth since 2010, and the weakest wage growth in 4 years. Trump and congressional Republicans have also fought to make work worse by advancing policies to weaken workplace protections, make it harder for workers to collectively bargain, make it easier for employers to steal wages from tipped employees, and make it easier for employers to discriminate against workers.

If Speaker Ryan and congressional Republicans truly cared about helping people transition into the labor market, they would support policies like raising the federal minimum wage, strengthening collective bargaining rights, and advancing policies like paid leave and universal child care, which actually help improve the quality of work.

This is the latest rebrand of the same old proposals

Instead, participants at the GOP retreat where Ryan initially floated this idea reported that his proposal would impose work requirements on Medicaid recipients – of whom more than 7 in 10 are caregivers or in school. The move would put at least 6.3 million people at risk of losing their health care outright, and force others into low-quality, low-paying jobs that are more harmful than helpful.

Ultimately, this workforce development push, like welfare reform before it, is about kicking struggling workers while they’re down, and taking away essential benefits from families when they need them most. And while Ryan may have ditched the racially-coded welfare rhetoric for now, his policies are still ripped right from Trump’s divisive handbook.

 

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Analysis

Trump Has Already Broken All of the Promises He Made to Workers During the State of the Union

Last night, President Donald Trump gave his first official State of the Union speech. The script was as expected: He bragged about his tax bill, repeated some promises about infrastructure, and promoted his administration’s latest wish list of anti-immigrant policies. He even claimed to be concerned for “America’s struggling workers.” But a lot was conspicuously absent from the speech—including all the ways his administration has harmed those very workers.

When he was a candidate, Trump pledged to turn the Republican Party into a “worker’s party.” He claimed that each of his policy decisions would hinge on whether it creates “more jobs and better wages for Americans” and promised to side with workers instead of “special interests” and the “financial elite.” But throughout his first year, he sided with corporations and the wealthy instead.

In 2017, Trump used his executive authority to pare down worker safety protections, make it harder for workers to receive the pay they earned, and hamstring their ability to collectively bargain for decent wages and benefits. His administration took action to weaken mine inspection rules, undermine the quality and pay of apprenticeship programs, and delay and roll back rules that will prevent construction and agricultural workers from being exposed to toxic chemicals.

Under Trump’s watch, the Department of Labor has signaled that it will use its regulatory power to roll back overtime coverage and protections for millions of workers and allow companies to legally confiscate employees’ tips. It withdrew guidance that held corporations accountable for wage theft. And the National Labor Relations Board is trying to slow the process for workers to request a union election.

Already, Trump’s agency appointees overturned a 2015 precedent that protected workers’ rights to bargain with companies that influence their workplaces. These so-called “joint-employer” protections are increasingly important since large corporations are more often relying on temporary staffing agencies, labor subcontractors, and franchises to supply their labor force. Now corporate interests are pushing even more extreme legislation: A bill to roll back protections for minimum wage, overtime, and child labor violations by joint employers has already passed the House. A president who cares about the rights of workers would fight hard against such a proposal.

Trump’s war on workers extends to the public sector as well. The Trump administration has backed union opponents that want to eliminate fair-share fees in the public sector, attempting to overturn a 40-year-old Supreme Court precedent and weaken public sector unions. And last night, he promised to make it easier for political appointees to fire federal public sector employees.

Just like last year’s joint address to Congress, the president promised last night to create jobs with a new infrastructure program. However, his fiscal year 2018 budget shows that this “new plan” is a shell game, since it would be paid for in part by cutting $138 billion from the Highway Trust Fund, which currently funds highway and public transportation projects across the United States, and eliminating existing job-creating infrastructure programs like TIGER and New Starts grants.

And while Trump touted his infrastructure plan, he didn’t guarantee that the jobs created will actually support a family. While the federal government has upheld Davis-Bacon prevailing wage standards for nearly 90 years to ensure that construction jobs funded through federal spending provide decent wages, many on the right are pressuring the administration to leave out these protections. Trump failed to mention them last night. If the president really wants to help workers, he should guarantee that all jobs created by the infrastructure package include the prevailing wage protections and pay at least $15 per hour, and expand contracting job quality protections broadly to ensure that all government spending creates well-paying jobs for workers.

The president also boasted about the performance of the U.S. stock market and the benefits of his tax cut bill. Yet neither today’s market performance nor the tax bill will make substantial, long-term improvements in the lives of everyday Americans. The run-up in stock market value predominantly benefits the rich, as 80 percent of U.S. stock value is held by the wealthiest 10 percent of households. Meanwhile, despite Trump’s false claim that “we are finally seeing rising wages,” the average wage of production and non-supervisory workers rose by only four cents in 2017 when adjusted for inflation—a growth rate of just 0.17 percent, below the last four years of wage growth.  And the tax bill—which Trump previously justified by saying working- and middle-class taxpayers would “receive the biggest benefit – it won’t even be close”—in fact gives the most to the richest taxpayers. This year, taxpayers making over $1 million will bring home a tax cut 100 times larger than the average tax cut for families in the bottom 80 percent by income. And in 2027, once individual tax cuts expire, nearly 92 million families making less than $200,000 annually will be paying more in taxes.

Viewers also heard Trump boast about one-time bonuses from companies seeking favor with the administration. However, the fact that some of these companies laid off thousands of workers as they were announcing the bonuses failed to make it to the presidential teleprompter.

Trump’s claims during last night’s speech can’t hide the truth: Month after month, the Trump administration took action to benefit wealthy donors instead of working people. From denying overtime protections for millions of Americans, to raising health insurance premiums, to weakening safety protections for workers, he has continually failed to stand up for those he claims to support. His pledge to lead a new “worker’s party” was a bait-and-switch, and he should be held accountable for this failure.

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Analysis

Why People Love ‘Assistance to the Poor’ But Hate ‘Welfare’

Last Spring, in a highly publicized meeting with members of the Congressional Black Caucus, President Donald Trump received some startling news. One of the members mentioned to Trump that pushing forward with “welfare reform” would be hurtful to her constituents, “not all of whom are black.”

“Really?” Trump replied. “Then what are they?”

Statistically, they were probably white. But given the United States’ history with the word “welfare,” it’s not all that surprising that Trump was confused.

Despite the fact that white Americans benefit more from government assistance than people of color, means-tested aid is primarily associated with black people and other people of color—particularly when the term welfare is used. For many Americans, the word welfare conjures up a host of disparaging stereotypes so strongly linked to stigmatized beliefs about racial groups that—along with crime—it is arguably one of the most racialized terms in the country.

White people's racial attitudes are the single most important influence on their views on welfare

Martin Gilens, a professor of political science at Princeton University, has studied the relationship between whites’ racial attitudes and their opinion on welfare extensively. In one study, he finds that white people’s racial attitudes are the single most important influence on their views on welfare. In other words, white people who are more prejudiced toward black people are also significantly more opposed to welfare. Numerous studies in the social sciences have substantiated this claim.

That has tremendous consequences for the types of policies that are proposed and passed. Public support for programs associated with the term welfare are generally weaker than support for other programs, like unemployment insurance, primarily because welfare is so strongly linked to the negative attitudes white people possess about black people. However, the public is willing to support redistributive benefits generally when they are not called welfare. For example, in 2014, 58 percent of white people thought that we are spending too much on welfare, whereas only 16 percent reported that we are spending too much on the poor.

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Source: Author’s analysis of 2014 General Social Survey data.

These same racial attitudes also structure the way policies are designed. They inform which groups we think are deserving of assistance, and which are not. Nicholas Winter, for instance, notes that part of why Social Security is so relatively popular compared to welfare is because of how both policies are racialized. Social Security, he argues, has been framed as a policy that is both universal—that is, it benefits all groups—and as one that has been contrasted with welfare as an earned reward for hard work (stereotypes associated with white people), rather than a handout for the lazy and dependent (stereotypes associated with black people).

In contrast, negative beliefs about the beneficiaries of programs we think of as welfare have arguably lead to a system of surveillance and sanctions. After Reagan popularized the disparaging stereotype of the

‘welfare queen’ In 1974, the Chicago Tribune began covering the case of Linda Taylor, who was charged with defrauding Illinois welfare programs. (Initial coverage claimed she had hundreds of aliases, defrauded the state of $200,000, and was responsible for kidnappings and working as a “voodoo doctor.” Later investigation found she had four aliases and defrauded the state of $8,000). Local journalists dubbed her the “welfare queen” during the first flurry of coverage. Instead of treating the case as an anomaly, Ronald Reagan used his 1976 run for president to turn Taylor into a caricature, arguing that everyone who received welfare was similarly likely to commit fraud. He leaned heavily on racist stereotypes of black women in his retelling of the story during campaign stops. Over the next decade, media outlets and fellow politicians seized on the idea that welfare was rife with fraud, and referred to all recipients with the racially charged language originally aimed at Taylor.

in the 1980s, Bill Clinton passed welfare reform policies that restricted access to benefits to satisfy racist attitudes. In addition to placing significant and often unfair burdens on the individuals seeking assistance, these restrictions—like required drug-testing of program applicants, restrictions on where benefits can be spent, and specifications on what types of work count toward required hours—relied on stereotypes and reinforced the belief that beneficiaries of these programs are undeserving. According to work by Joe Soss and Sanford F. Schram, more people believed that welfare benefits lead to dependency in 2003 than in 1989.

The media have played a significant role in establishing the link between poverty, welfare, and race in the public mind. According to Gilens, these trends were forged in the 1960s, when race riots drew the nation’s attention to the black urban poor. In just three years—from 1964 to 1967—the percentage of poverty news stories that featured images of black people grew from 27 percent to 72 percent. These trends have persisted in the present day.

But both Gilens’ and Winters’ work suggests that the media can also help promote anti-poverty legislation by avoiding racialized terms, like welfare, to talk about public assistance. But if they keep leaning specifically on the term welfare—as they have during Speaker Ryan’s recent push to cut anti-poverty programs by referring to them as “welfare reform”—then otherwise popular policies may be dragged down with the word’s racialized history.

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First Person

In the First Year of Trump’s Presidency, We Stopped Being Invisible

Every day when I walk out of my door, I take a deep breath and prepare myself to be stared at. Strangers examine me from head to toe to determine what I am: a dark-haired, androgynous lady with a penchant for leather boots and knit sweaters. I don’t engage, out of fear that a feminine voice coming from a masculine-looking person will turn their confusion into anger. I lower my head when I go into public bathrooms or locker rooms, knowing that my presence will put people on edge. Sometimes people will draw their children in close as if I’m a danger, and other times women will confront me and ask if I know that I’m in the women’s room. I can’t decide which is worse.

I try to make myself small. I fold into myself hoping that if I don’t make eye contact, if I just don’t look up, no one will notice I’m there. I pack away my loud laugh and hunch my broad shoulders.

My mom mentioned the same thing to me in a phone call last week. On her daily walk during her lunch break, she asked me if she could share something that had been weighing on her recently. Her whole life, she said, she has tried to make herself invisible. As a child, she tried to make herself invisible as a means of survival. As a teenager who was undocumented, she tried to make herself invisible so that she wouldn’t be detained by INS. And as a single mother, she tried to make herself invisible so that she could raise me in an environment that was safe. Recently, people have been cutting her in lines, as if she isn’t there.

“I’m starting to think I got too good at making myself invisible. Do you know what I mean?”

“Yeah,” I said. “I think I do.”

The concept of shrinking one’s self down to navigate the world safely is not at all new. When what you have learned in life is that self-preservation may be your only means of survival, invisibility is a refuge. But over the past year—a year in which our country has been led by a man who won the White House by being sexist, racist, and violently anti-immigrant—invisible people have stepped into the light.

When being seen is dangerous, choosing to be visible is an act of resistance and radical love.

When being seen is dangerous, choosing to be visible is an act of resistance and radical love.

We see this with young undocumented activists who are protesting at the Capitol: seeking out the elected officials who would deprive them of their home, knowing fully well that they could be arrested and detained. We see this with the members of ADAPT who fought to take down Trumpcare, through arrests in front of the White House, in the Capitol Rotunda, and Mitch McConnell’s office. We see this in the survivors of sexual harassment and sexual assault, ranging from movie stars to domestic workers, who are speaking their assaulters’ names.

We are done making ourselves small, and we are done staying quiet out of fear.

There is no asking for access anymore, or asking to be listened to. Instead, there is truth telling and a demand for acknowledgment. We are showing up, in record numbers, and we are not losing energy.

We have realized that our seat at the table will not be given to us if it requires someone who has privilege to relinquish it. So we are doing what Shirley Chisholm taught us, and bringing our own folding chairs. And in doing so, we have stepped out of our invisibility and into the light.

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Feature

For Homeless Youth, Statistics and Reality Are Miles Apart

At the headquarters of Covenant House Washington in Southeast D.C., a nonprofit serving youth experiencing homelessness, ten twin-sized black canvas cots fill a white-tiled alcove on the main floor. The space serves as an emergency shelter for homeless young people, which Covenant House calls “The Sanctuary.” In keeping with its name, the walls are a deep, soothing blue.

Five of the cots are for women and five for men, which is far short of the demand. The room is empty now, in mid-afternoon, but by 6:00 p.m., when the shelter opens, young people will be lining up for a chance to snag a few square feet of space for the evening, and maybe a shower and a hot meal.

“We turn away at least 8 youth per night,” says Madye Henson, Covenant House Washington’s chief executive officer.

Henson has added extra beds for hypothermia season and is planning a permanent expansion to 20 beds this year. In combination with its other programs, that would bring Covenant House’s total emergency shelter capacity to 77, making it the city’s largest provider of emergency shelter for homeless youth. But compared with the D.C. General Family Shelter for families with children, with 264 beds, Covenant House is still tiny.

The shortage of shelter beds for homeless youth is endemic across the country. Youth homelessness has been a low priority for federal funding and largely an afterthought in communities’ efforts to fight homelessness. Instead, young adults have been thrown into the system for chronically homeless adults, despite their very different needs and the dangers they face in adult shelters.

As a result, millions of young people are going without the shelter and services they need, at enormous downstream costs for government. “Shelter providers can tell you that some of the [homeless] adults they see now are the same people they saw as kids,” says Barbara Duffield, executive director of Schoolhouse Connection, a nonprofit advocacy group focused on ending youth homelessness.

As many as 1 in 10 young adults between the ages of 18 and 25—or 3.5 million young people—experience homelessness over a 12-month period, according to the Voice of Youth Count survey, a new study by Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago. About half of this is “couch surfing,” which could include crashing at a friend’s house for a few days between apartments but typically involves more long-term housing instability. The other half is “explicit” homelessness, such as sleeping in cars, sheds, or under bridges. And while homelessness is often perceived to be an urban problem, the Chapin Hall study found that rural youth were just as likely to have experienced homelessness as youth in cities.

“When most people think of homelessness, they think of older adults or families on the streets, not adolescents or young people,” says Matthew Morton, principal investigator for Chapin Hall’s research. “We’ve always assumed young people were running away or acting out but not becoming chronically homeless over time.”

Morton’s research validates what’s long been evident in places like the Latin American Youth Center (LAYC)’s “drop-in” center for homeless youth—a brightly painted row house in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of Washington, D.C. While places like Covenant House provide space at night, LAYC is one of only two places in the city where homeless youth can find a safe place to stay during the day. Young people can get something to eat, take a shower and brush their teeth, talk to counselors, get help finding a job, and even do some laundry. The center also distributes 9,000 diapers a month to homeless young moms and maintains a roomful of donated clothing in all shapes and sizes.

LAYC is one of only two places in the city where homeless youth can find a safe place to stay during the day

John Van Zandt, the center’s director, says that about 30 to 35 young people come in every day. While the majority of these are regulars, about 100 or so every month are first-timers.

On the Monday before Thanksgiving, there’s a turkey roasting in the oven of the communal kitchen on the top floor of the row house. One young man is doing his laundry, carefully separating whites from colors. On the ground floor, in what would otherwise be the living room, there are several desks and computers for staff and a row of chairs where half a dozen young people are hanging out. Some are scrolling through their smartphones, one man with long braids and ripped jeans is working on his resume with a staffer, and two others are resting on bunkbeds in a small room at the back. A lot of casual banter is flying. The atmosphere is relaxed.

An African American man named Trevor is among the young people sitting in the chairs at the front of the room (he did not give his full name for privacy reasons). His build is tall and stocky but his long-lashed features are delicate and his beard closely shaved. At the moment, he’s getting ready to leave for a part-time retail job at a cosmetics store downtown. Many of the youth who come to LAYC have jobs, but they don’t earn nearly enough to afford D.C. rents.

Trevor has been homeless since his grandmother, his only relative, passed away four years ago. “She did everything for me,” he says. For a while, he coped with alcohol. “You know how they have the wine in the plastic containers that hold three glasses?” he says. “I would drink three of them a day … But I wouldn’t be like drunk,” he adds quickly. “I don’t like to show up at work drunk.”

Trevor is 26 years old, technically past the age that he’s eligible to receive the center’s services (which is 24), but he has nowhere else to go. At night, he’s been staying at Casa Ruby, a shelter for homeless LGBTQ youth nearby. By day, he is often at LAYC.

Van Zandt hears dozens of stories like Trevor’s every day. “About 40 percent of the youth we serve identify as LGBT,” he says. “We have a lot of young trans youth here. Others have differences with their families and decide to leave. Some of them have babies, and their parents tell them, ‘If you’re old enough to have a baby, you’re old enough to be on your own.’” Other young people have been incarcerated but then released with no place to stay, while others are fleeing backgrounds of domestic violence or substance abuse or are aging out of foster care. Still others are what Van Zandt calls “generationally homeless,” with parents who are homeless, too.

Piled up against the walls of Van Zandt’s office in the basement are kitchen bags and paper sacks filled with clothes and random belongings—all left with him for safekeeping by the center’s clients. Each pile is its own story.

“That hamper down there is a boy who’s in jail,” says Van Zandt, pointing to a white plastic basket filled with sweatshirts and other clothing. “So we’re hanging onto his stuff till he comes back.” Van Zandt also says young people are allowed to use the center as their mailing address. “We have two huge mailboxes upstairs full of mail,” he says. “Hundreds of youth use this as their permanent address—packages, checks, you name it. I’m sure the DMV is wondering why there are so many people who say they live at 3045 15th Street.”

Despite the depth and breadth of youth homelessness that is obvious at places like LAYC and Covenant House, until only a few years ago, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) did not acknowledge homeless youth as a distinct population with distinct needs. Rather, HUD’s approach to homelessness has tended to be monolithic, with a particular focus on the highly visible, chronically homeless adults you see on park benches or sleeping in doorways.

One way this inattention to youth homelessness manifests itself is in the way that HUD determines the extent of homelessness in the country. On one night in January every year, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) coordinates a nationwide count of the number of people experiencing homelessness by gathering data from shelters and transitional housing programs and sending volunteers into the streets. In 2017, this count found that 553,742 people were homeless as defined by HUD—that is, living in shelters, transitional housing programs, or out in the open (unsheltered). Until 2013, however, HUD did not explicitly count youth ages 18 to 24 (instead lumping them in with adults), and it wasn’t until 2015 that HUD’s official point-in-time counts included “unaccompanied young adults” in their own category.

Moreover, the way that HUD defines homelessness still results in a gross underestimate of homeless youth. “This count has been very oriented to adult patterns of homelessness and where adults are likely to go,” says Nan Roman, President of the National Alliance to End Homelessness. In D.C., for example, the 2017 point-in-time census found just 238 homeless youth (as defined by HUD)—a number belied by the experience of people like LAYC’s Van Zandt and Covenant House’s Henson. Nationally, the homeless youth count was 36,010—orders of magnitude below the figures from Chapin Hall’s research.

The problem with the federal numbers is that HUD doesn’t consider homelessness to include couch surfing, which advocates say is the predominant experience of homeless youth. “Young people are the hidden homeless,” says advocate Darla Bardine, executive director of the National Network for Youth.

For one thing, young people tend to avoid shelters, encampments and other places where they are more likely to be seen—but also less likely to be counted—out of justifiable fears for their safety. A recent study of homeless youth released by Covenant House International and Loyola University found that 91 percent of the youth surveyed had been approached with “work opportunities” that turned out to be “fraudulent work situations, scams, pandering, or sex trafficking,” and that one-fifth had ultimately been victimized by this kind of trafficking.

It’s also often not clear when young people begin an episode of homelessness. “Young people aren’t fine one day and then sleeping under a bridge,” says Chapin Hall’s Morton. “Homelessness often involves a trajectory. A young person might run away a couple of times or sleep on someone’s couch or with a relative or neighbor. And then over time if these challenges they’re experiencing continue, running away or couch surfing becomes sleeping in the car or on the streets.”

That kind of instability was the experience of Carla R. of Fairfax, Virginia, who fled her abusive parents at age 17 while pregnant with her first child. “I was living in a lot of different places,” she says. “I was living at my sister’s house, my son’s father’s sister’s place, then my boyfriend’s friend’s place sometimes.” At one point, she stayed with her boyfriend’s mother, who was renting out space in her house for extra cash. She says she slept on the floor with at least a dozen other people scattered throughout the house. “I had bedbug bites everywhere.”

Nevertheless, Carla would not have been considered homeless by HUD.

The definition of homelessness matters because of its impact on the resources available—a principal purpose of HUD’s annual count is to help communities allocate their funds for preventing and ending homelessness. Undercounting homeless youth means that localities are in turn underestimating the extent of the problem and limiting what they spend on shelters and services targeted to youth.

According to Jasmine Hayes, deputy director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, HUD spent $2.38 billion on homelessness assistance in 2016, but just $134 million on youth-specific services. Congress has also consistently underfunded services available under the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act, passed in 2008. While the law authorizes up to $165 million a year, actual funding has stayed flat at $119 million, Hayes says.

‘The need is just immense’

As a result, young people aren’t getting the services they need. Carla, for instance, was able to avoid the trajectory into street homelessness through a residential housing program for young mothers run by Second Story, a nonprofit based in Fairfax County, Virginia. The program helped her arrange for child care, improve her parenting skills, find a job, and even attend college. Today, at age 25, she has a well-paying job at a defense contracting agency and owns her own condo.

But she’s one of the lucky ones. According to executive director Judith Dittman, Second Story is now the only nonprofit in Fairfax County serving homeless youth, while five other shelters have closed their doors over the past few decades because of funding cuts. Despite Fairfax County’s reputation for affluence, the county reports more than 2,300 homeless children in its schools, and Dittman says there is consistently a waitlist of at least 20 to 30 youth for Second Story’s housing programs. “The need is just immense,” she says.

When a young person comes into an emergency shelter, many localities administer a standardized questionnaire, called the “Transition Age Youth Vulnerability Index – Service Prioritization Decision Assistance Tool” (TAY-VI-SPDAT), to assess the severity of a young person’s situation. The questionnaire asks, for example, how many episodes of homelessness a young person has experienced in the past three years, and whether they’ve ever been assaulted or engaged in risky activities such as exchanging “sex for money, food, drugs, or a place to stay.” It also includes questions about a young person’s mental and physical health and connections to family and friends. The higher the score, the more desperate the young person’s situation.

For example, says LAYC’s Van Zandt, “If you score high on the SPDAT, [it could be that] you’ve been trafficked, you’re addicted to K2 [a synthetic marijuana], and you’re bipolar.” But resources are also so scarce that it’s often only the young people in the direst of situations who are able to get help, while preventive services for people who are on the cusp of chronic homelessness are almost entirely absent.

That, says Morton, is the greatest tragedy of the current federal non-response to youth homelessness. “We’re forcing a cycle of waiting unless young people have suffered long enough to deserve services,” he says. “That’s the problem with the way the system works. Every young person who asks for help should get help.”

Instead, the lack of help and resources means that many of today’s homeless youth are almost certain to be tomorrow’s homeless adults. The result is not just greater costs for government but the catastrophic—and all too avoidable—loss of human potential.

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