Jasmine Williams, second from right, and William Iannuzzi, front bottom, are among the formerly homeless young people meeting with members of Congress this week. Also pictured, from top left: Herman Joseph, Charlotte Fonseca, Tyrell Ray.
By Rebecca Sheir
Advocates for homeless and runaway young people are asking Congress to expand funding for services. And they're asking lawmakers to meet face to face with young adults who understand the value of those programs all too well.
For Jasmine Williams, the trouble began about four years ago.
"I started suffering from sexual abuse from the age of 14 at the hands of my stepfather," says Williams. "And eventually he grew tired of me, and that led to my being homeless."
Williams spent a total of seven months on the street.
"My dad used to tell me all the time, there's no one out here for you,'" she says. "'You're gonna be just like all those other girls, ya know, prostitutin.' You're screwed, basically."
But Williams who's back in school and heading to college, says she refused to believe that. And as part of this weeks [National Network For Youth](< symposium="" she="" share="" her="" story="" with="" members="" of="" congress="">
Joining her is 22-year-old William Iannuzzi, who was homeless for a year after his parents kicked him out for being gay.
"Look, we need help," he says. "We need supplies. We need something, you know?"
Last month Congress appropriated $750,000 for the Federal Runaway and Homeless Youth Act. But the National Network for Youth says that isn't nearly enough, since the recession has weakened programs, and tossed more people onto the street.
Williams says lawmakers know that, "...and a lot of their attitudes are, 'that's a shame. I wish it wasn't like that.' So what I want to tell them is don't pity me; help me."
The National Network for Youth is asking Congress to appropriate $165 million for outreach, shelter and other services to support the young people who are homeless now and to prevent new ones from taking their places.