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Why We Need New Laws for Youth Experiencing Homelessness in Massachusetts

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on Monday, 21 July 2014
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My name is Jiayi Liu, an advocacy intern at Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless. I am a rising sophomore at the University Of Notre Dame, and with the funding from the university’s First Year Research Ignition Fellowship, I was able to work for free at the Coalition on the unaccompanied homeless youth issue.

Before I started working towards my undergraduate degree, I had been volunteering at an orphanage once in a while. Children in the orphanage got abandoned for many reasons, none of which their own fault. I could only think of how unfortunate these children were and how irresponsible their parents were. The thought that I could change the situation never occurred to me until I took a few Sociology and American studies courses, in which I learned a lot from literatures and documentaries about poverty and homelessness and how improving social policies could better the situation from the roots.

I have always been aware of the fact that when children age out of foster care system, they become homeless. I have seen many young people of my age wandering on the streets, not knowing where to go, and it makes me shiver. What if they become victims of human trafficking? What if they get freeze to death in the cold harsh winter? Who will think of them or look for them when they are missing? If they are lucky enough to make it through, many of them are still missing their time to receive education and get their life started, not because of they do not want to but because they cannot. The vicious cycle of homelessness continues and homeless population just keeps rising. I want to change the situation, and I want to change it from the roots. And guess what, you can help out to change it too.

After I began working at the Coalition, my knowledge of youth homelessness has expanded so much. Now, I know youth homelessness has more reason than just aging out of orphanages – it could happen due to families’ poverty, domestic violence, sexual abuse, drug addiction and even discrimination against certain sexual orientation. The causes of unaccompanied youth’s homelessness are complex, so I only know two things for sure: they need help, and there is not enough help out there, not even in this great democratic state of Massachusetts where amazing reforms and revolutions happen. In Boston, there are only 25 beds designed for the needs of thousands of unaccompanied youth. Even if some of them are qualified for adult shelters, they have to line up for a bed every single night with no guarantee they could get in. We need consistent, reliable funding from the state to build shelters that these young, promising people could trust so that they don’t need to worry about where to sleep tomorrow.

We have got to break the cycle of homelessness before today’s unaccompanied youth become tomorrow’s homeless adults by providing our youth with stable housing and basic services they need, and passing necessary legislations is the best way to ensure continuous government funding. Even if it might be hard to pass a piece of legislation in the state, we still need to dash for a change to help our youth and set an example to other states, even to the rest of the world. Unaccompanied youth cannot wait any longer; they are already missing out golden years of their lives when anything is possible and full of hope. We cannot wait until the next legislative session to pass this important bill to protect our youth! Please contact your state legislators and ask them to act upon this serious issue today about House Bill 135, “An Act providing housing and support services to unaccompanied homeless youth” before time runs out—for both this important piece of legislation and for the unaccompanied youth on the streets. The last day to push this bill through the next step of legislation process is July 31st, 2014. Act before it is too late. If you are not sure who to contact, please go to: www.wheredoivotema.com/bal/MyElectionInfo.aspx to find out who your legislators are and how you can contact them! 

By Jiayi Liu 
Intern at the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless 

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The importance of having legislation that will protect unaccompanied homeless youth

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By Bianca Carreriro
Intern and advocate at the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless

As one of the interns at the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless, I’ve learned so much about youth homelessness. Currently I am a social work senior at Salem State University. I am in the final stretch of my undergraduate career and I couldn’t be more excited. In a little over a month, I’ll have my degree in hand as proof of all my hard work these past four years.

Although I am more than excited to be finishing up at Salem State, I can’t help but remember all of the unaccompanied homeless youth that I’ve encountered over my time at the Coalition. In January and February, I interviewed over twenty unaccompanied homeless youth from Salem and Boston. The majority of these youth were twenty-one years old, just like me. Throughout the interviews, I was slightly uncomfortable: who am I to ask questions about homelessness, when I have never seen those atrocities? My privilege struck me like a bulldozer. Of course I was aware that homeless existed, but I didn’t realize that people my age could also be exposed to it….or maybe, I just didn’t want to realize it.

With the youth sitting across the table from me, all I could think of was, “that could be me.” Homelessness does not discriminate; it can happen to anyone at any second. We are so involved in our own lives that we forget that social issues like homelessness exist until it’s right in front of our faces. The youth that I interviewed were resilient, determined, and ready to move beyond their homelessness; all they needed was a little extra support. The Unaccompanied Homeless Youth Act could be that extra support.

I support this bill whole-heartedly because I don’t think it’s fair that there are people my age living on the street, or worrying about where to go to next.

 I support this bill because I am a believer in community action. Youth are our future and that includes homeless youth. We need to give them every bit of support that we provide to housed children.

I support this bill because homelessness can happen to anyone. It can happen to my friends, my classmates, my little sister, and it can even happen to me. As a community, we can stand up for unaccompanied homeless youth by supporting this bill.

I ask you to think about the children and youth in your lives. Now imagine everything ripped from their lives and they’re forced to live on the streets. Wouldn’t you want your government supporting the children you care about? Please support House Bill 135 to give unaccompanied homeless youth a chance. They deserve the opportunity to escape the nightmare that is their reality.

As I cross the graduation stage next month, I will think of all the unaccompanied homeless youth I’ve met this year and hope that they will have the same opportunities that I have.  

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Getting over the fear to meet one-on-one with my legislators!

Posted by Exa Méndez
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on Wednesday, 26 March 2014
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You know those butterflies you get in your stomach when you’re about to do something for the first time? Like the first time you dived into a swimming pool. You stand there paralyzed, on the diving board. You are so close to jumping in. For some of us, fear steps in. Fear stops us in our tracks before we can dive. For others, we jump and fall smoothly into the water. When our heads are finally above water, we can breathe. For about 30 seconds, we stopped breathing, either because we were too scared to jump, or we faced our fears and immersed ourselves in the unknown.

That’s kind of what it’s like when you speak to a state legislator for the first time. On February 27th, 2014, I attended the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless’ Legislative Action Day. I had no intentions of speaking with my state legislators; I felt that I did my duty as I was a part of the planning committee for the event. As I was passing out folders for constituents to hand to their legislators, I kept noticing that no one picked up the folders for my state legislators. I became nervous. Why wasn’t anyone representing my community of 40,000? Where were the constituents from Attleboro? Who was going to stand up for the homeless community in my district? Then came the daunting realization: I had to represent my community.

With encouragement from the Coalition’s own, Exa Mendez, I visited my state legislators. I gathered the information packets compiled with information about different bills regarding homelessness and planned what I was going to say. I was ready to enter that office with a fight! After walking around the State House for a bit, I finally found Representative Heroux’s office. I stood outside the door for a few minutes to gain focus, but most importantly, to remind myself that I wasn’t doing this for myself; I was doing this for the thousands of unaccompanied homeless youth in the Commonwealth, along with the thousands of homeless families. There was no one from my district to advocate for homeless community in Attleboro; therefore, it had to be me.

Finally, after composing myself, I entered Representative Heroux’s office. His legislative aide greeted me. She told me that unfortunately, Representative Heroux was in session so I couldn’t speak to him directly. A wave of disappointment swept over me. The legislative aide encouraged me to speak to her about any concerns that I had. Although I couldn’t speak with the representative directly, she assured me that she would pass my concerns to him.

I began voicing my concerns about homelessness to the legislative aide. Before I knew it, I was in the office for about thirty minutes discussing the implications of youth homelessness. I never realized how much knowledge I had about the subject. Luckily for me, the legislative aide was incredibly receptive and understood my concerns. After I left the office, all the butterflies that I once had, flew out of me. I was, and continue to be, incredibly proud to represent my district as a constituent.

If you have any concerns about visiting your state legislators, don’t. There is no reason to be afraid. They are only people, just like you and me. For added encouragement, think about all the lives you can impact if you voiced your opinion. Our voices have the power to change the lives of thousands! All it takes is a little dose of empowerment. Speaking to your state legislator is like diving into a pool, but instead of a pool, you are throwing yourself amid the political process. With your voice, you can make a bill into a law. 

By Bianca Carreiro, Legislative Advocate/Intern

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Travis speaks up for LGBTQ youth who experience homelessness

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Editor's note: This story was provided to the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless by Ayala Livny and Travis, member of Youth on Fire. All rights are reserved and any duplication of this story has to be made with previous consent of the author. We thank Ayala and Travis for sharing this story with us. 

In January of 2012, I knew I was going to be homeless; I saw my hours at work getting lower as the holiday season ended, and the housing situation I was in was unable to accommodate me. I frantically talked with case workers at Youth on Fire, and at that point filled out an application for a transitional housing. I became homeless in March of 2012. At that time I realized that the only supports for young, LGBTQ identified people were the case managers at Youth on Fire; and they don't provide a shelter. There is a difference between putting a “Safe space” Sticker – a sticker that shows an upside-down rainbow triangle – and actually being a safe space.

The first problem I faced was the disproportional amount of services that are geared for young people. Most times the programs are specifically targeted either for people up to 18, or for 18 plus. This means I at 22, would be in the same shelter with the same services as people who are in their 40s, 50s 60s. Not only is that extremely inappropriate, but it is very unlikely that a young adult who has their full life ahead of them will need or want the same services as someone who has been homeless many years or is older and has given up on the system.

The biggest problem with the system is that it fails most people. There are so many hoops to jump through, so times and ways you have to verify yourself.  I have experienced many times where I will submit a set of paperwork and by the time it is processed that paperwork has expired due to the standards of the system. When I refer to the system, I mean the governmental and state assistance programs like SSI, UB, SNAP, and housing programs.

While I was fighting the system with my paperwork, and verifying my identity, I also spent some time at the adult shelters (remember adult is considered 18 plus). I had been told by a friend which shelters in the Boston area to avoid – the friend had been sexually assaulted at one of them. I tried one of the shelters not mentioned by the friend and found myself meeting the same fate; I tried to get the staff members to help and they refused to get involved, or to even call the police.  I also heard of a youth/young adult shelter located in the heart of Boston. I started going to the program there in addition to Youth on Fire so that I could use the overnight services. However, while using the services there I found myself to be discriminated against – by clients and by staff – due to my perceived sexual orientation. While I mostly identify myself as queer, I am also FTM (Female to Male Transgender), and perceived as straight by the majority of standards. I would describe some of the treatment at the youth/young adult shelter as being treated like a pile of shit. I was asked not to sleep on the same side of the room as the men because they were afraid I would touch them; the staff members in charge seemed to agree. If I couldn't sleep in the middle of the “two” genders I would not be allowed to stay. I never thought to out myself as trans because I worried that I would face even more discrimination – people tend to be more transphobic than homophobic.

After staying in the shelter of the program for about a month, I was accepted into a transitional housing program. I stayed there during the summer of 2012, until the program closed down and I was forced out of a place to stay again. At this point, I realized that the safest place to stay for someone like me, someone who is a young adult and LGBTQ identified, is actually on the street. Staying on the street with friends means having constant protection and means not having to deal with staff members who have not had enough training to know what to do when there is a sexual assault, a physical assault or are not trained to know how to handle sexual orientation and gender identity. I feel that the only place I have been to that has all these supports is Youth on Fire, and again, they are only a daytime drop in center.

I feel that the ideal solution is to change the system; for example providing a completely different application for housing to people who are under a certain age, and then process those applications differently and efficiently. However, I also understand that this is not something that can happen overnight. Other ways to help me in the current moment include making drop in centers and shelters really be safe spaces for all LGBTQ identified people (and their straight allies). Maybe this means trainings on how to respond to a derogatory term, or how to respond if a client informs you of harassment, etc. Maybe this means being trained by the people who know it best (“clients”) versus by “professionals” who might have only read a text book. Honestly, people are not textbooks and their experiences are not always validated as real by those who are considered “professionals”. This also means that LGBTQ identified people should not need to out themselves in order to receive safe treatment. For me, that was never an option at the youth/young adult shelter – who claimed to be a safe space. In addition to making all spaces LBGTQ safe all staff members should be trained to handle assault; whether that means calling in back up, calling the police, or physically breaking up a fight. There is no reason for any person to risk their own safety in order to stay inside. A lot of these shelters are understaffed, and the staff that are there are undereducated; the staff members do not want to risk their own safety, which is definitely a reasonable reason to not get involved. However this all comes back to the need for the system to change. If the system is in charge of providing services, there needs to be a change in how those services are provided.

The biggest change that needs to happen in regards to young people experiencing homelessness is that they need their own spaces. The young adults I has met seem much more likely to have an interest in getting out of their situations than the older people I have met. Young people still need assistance finagling the system and making sure all their needs get met and working with people who are not trained to work with them is difficult on both sides.

There are a number of crucial ways to help change this system:  Organizations need to separate young adults from older adults in every program, including shelters; and young adults should have different services, and caseworkers who are trained to work with their specific age range.  Organizations need to make sure that all places are truly safe places for a person who is LGBTQ identified; this includes the person not needing to out themselves to get the appropriate treatment. And finally, organizations need to provide young adults with shelters, transitional living programs, and stable housing. Altogether, this means changing the system to better work for homeless young adults. 

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The youth: The best advocates

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By Alison Brauner, Student, Advocate and Volunteer/Intern at the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless. 

When young people speak, Senators and State Representatives listen. There are hundreds of people who work in the Boston State House, and hundreds of people who walk in and out of that large maze of a building every day. In the midst of our busy lives, it can be hard to imagine taking time to go to the State House, sit in a Representative’s office, and discuss the issues that are concerning us, but this is such an important part of our role as voters and citizens. Advocates, like the staff at the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless, are no stranger to the State House, and they know firsthand what will, and what will not, bend a legislator’s ear. As a part of the “Accompany the Youth” campaign, an effort to pass House Bill 135, which will provide housing and supportive services for young people experiencing homelessness without the care of a parent or legal guardian, we have taken time out of Senators’ and Representatives’ days and asked them to listen to young people discuss the trials they’ve faced as unaccompanied homeless youth. When young people speak, law-makers listen.

The first step when addressing a law-maker about the plight of the unaccompanied youth is to obliterate the stigma behind youth homelessness. While the stigma behind homelessness in general is not at all representative of the reality of thousands of people struggling to make ends meet, it is even more untrue for people under the age of 24. The reasons that young people face homelessness are entirely different from those of adults. Because of this, most emergency shelters are unsafe and inappropriate for people under 25, and many unaccompanied youth feel safer sleeping on the street than in these shelters. Very few shelters accept anyone under the age of 18.

Contrary to popular belief, young people who face homelessness are not “just lazy,” or unwilling to “take responsibility” for their life and “just find a job.” In fact, a large number of unaccompanied youth have jobs, but generally speaking these jobs only pay minimum wage. In the State of Massachusetts, a person earning minimum wage has to work about 110 hours a week just to afford rent, never mind food, clothes, transportation, medical bills, heat, electricity, water, or gas. To put that in perspective, this means that a person would have to work, at minimum, 15 to 16 hours a day, seven days a week, just a afford rent. This makes going to school an absolute impossibility.

Three leading causes of youth homelessness are domestic violence, sexual abuse, and LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer or Questioning) related issues. People as young as middle-school age face this difficult choice: to stay in an abusive home, or try their luck in the street. A disproportionately large percentage of unaccompanied youth identity as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, or Queer or Questioning; after coming out to a relative or guardian, they are forced to leave home, either because their guardian insists they do so, or because the harassment or abuse they face in the aftermath is unbearable. A young person living on the street faces starvation, exposure to the elements, racial or gender-related prejudice, violence, sexual assault and exploitation, even death. At the Bill Hearing for House Bill 135 in the summer of 2013, Dr. Alice Colegrove testified that youth who experience homelessness are ten times more likely to die than their housed peers. Many unaccompanied youth find themselves involved in risky behavior as a means of survival. For example, a young person may trade sexual favors in exchange for a place to sleep, or for food. This dramatically increases their risk of contracting sexually transmitted illnesses, sexual abusive, physical violence, and sexual exploitation. To be clear, it is homelessness that dramatically increases their risk of danger, harm, and illness, not simply their behavior. We understand that these behaviors are not simply a result of reckless irresponsibility, but rather a last resort to which our young people have had to resort because we lack the supportive services they so desperately need.

We, as advocates, know all of this not by mere speculation, but because brave young people have come forward and shared their story with us, and with their legislators. Though our work is important, a young person is their own best advocate. A young person is also the best advocate for other young people. It’s all well and good for an adult, a professional with a fancy degree or an office at a local non-profit to say to a Senator, “These kids aren’t just lazy! Pass House Bill 135!” But when a young person sits in front of this Senator and tells their story, blows the doors off the stigma for themselves, and lays out the truth before this law-maker in an unmovable and undisputable fashion, the legislator listens.

I witnessed the power of youth advocacy last summer, sitting in a legislator’s office with three brave young people who were facing homelessness themselves. One young woman spoke about her flight from an abusive home, and how it led her to the street. Another young man discussed how his homophobic family threw him out on the street after he admitted to his parents that he was gay. The third young man told the Senator about his struggle with unemployment as a recent graduate of a reputable university in the Midwest. Though all three were eloquent, brutally honest, and powerful, I would like to share just a few details from the last young man’s testimony, to show just how unfair the “lazy” stereotype for homeless youth really is.

Before graduating, this young man landed an internship with a business in Boston that was going to pay him a small sum, and provide him with room and board. After moving out to Boston with no money to his name, the company unexpectedly laid off more than a thousand employees all at once, and canceled his internship, and he lost his apartment. Finding a job as a recent college graduate is difficult. Finding a job a young person experiencing homelessness is nearly impossible.

He, and many like him, began looking for work in the food industry, at coffee shops or as dishwashers. Unable to list a permanent address on his applications, he often couldn’t even get an interview. Those places which did interview and hire him quickly caught on to his living situation for two reasons. The first, and most obvious, was his backpack. People saw him caring around an enormous backpack filled with all his worldly possessions, such as a tooth brush, extra clothes, and they got suspicious. Secondly, he wasn’t able to bathe of clean up regularly because he didn’t have a safe place to stay. Collectively, this meant that the few jobs he was able to hold for a short while didn’t last very long. Even though these employers knew they’d hired a responsible and well-educated young man, the stigma behind homelessness made them uneasy. The young man believes that the employers thought he must be addicted to drugs, or worried he might steal from the business, which were both absolutely untrue. Without a job, he couldn’t get a place to live, but without a place to live, he wasn’t able to find, much less keep, a job. It’s a vicious cycle.

If this young man had a place to sleep, bathe, and store his belongings, his search for employment would be so much easier, and probably end with success. Watching him explain this to the representative, who listened with unwavering attention, I saw the representative’s demeanor change. While he had been polite from the beginning, the awe, respect, and disbelief, both of their courage and of their struggle, was evident. No longer was this senator misinformed about the causes of youth homelessness, or the daily experiences of the unaccompanied youth. Over the course of half an hour, this senator became an advocate for unaccompanied youth, all because three brave individuals became advocates for themselves.

Without the involvement of young people in the legislative process, specifically as advocates for themselves and each other, the fight for housing and supportive services can’t be won. Advocates at the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless can only do so much when working with senators and law-makers. We need young people to be involved and share their stories, give their testimonies, and be a part of campaign to pass House Bill 135. The best thing a young person can do for themselves is become their own advocate. Until legislation is passed at the state level, the housing and services that the unaccompanied youth so desperately need won’t be made available.

Help make Massachusetts the first state to end youth homelessness. If you have a testimony you’d like to share, or if you know someone who might make a good advocate, let us know! Contact Exa at the Coalition at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  or Kelly Turley at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to share your story and get involved.

The voice of an advocate is immeasurably powerful, but a youth facing homelessness who advocates for him or herself is positively unstoppable.

When young people speak, legislators listen. 

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Homeless youth need housing, specially during the holidays

Posted by Exa Méndez
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on Monday, 23 December 2013
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It is heartbreakingly difficult to read about young adults being homeless —especially during the holidays, when we are all celebrating with our loved ones in our homes. Sadly, recent evidence confirm our observation that homelessness among young people is on the rise — a trend with potentially demoralizing consequences.

Living in Massachusetts the temperature seems to always plummet come dusk; the rise of negative thoughts and hate for the cold seems to always creep in. Although, I do have socks on my feet, layers of warm clothing and a roof over my head. I am from Florida so this weather is brutally unbearable. However, I can’t begin to fathom how the malnourished and fragile young adults are surviving—many without socks or any layers to insulate their warmth against the brisk and frigid gloomy days.

Hypothermia kills an estimated 700 people experiencing, or at-risk of homelessness each year, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless. One may ask, why they don’t seek shelter. This is a good question, however I have a better answer.  First and Foremost the media depicts an entirely different picture of shelters than the appalling image painted from those who are already chronically homeless in and out of these exact same homeless shelters with food pantries, clothing drives and wonderful holiday dinners. It’s a picture smeared from drugs, alcohol, mental instability, fear, thieves, predators, diseases and the heaviest token of all— lonesomeness. Not all shelters are like those above. Nevertheless, the ones they are often left to seek due to frigid weather conditions are for a one night stay, are. They are sent without any regards for how they will be treated there. Fearing the unknown is why so many homeless individuals refuse shelter. Being on the streets you are left to fend for yourself. You either have a sense of a small community on the street to keep you as safe as an empty industrial building or alleys allow, or you become one with your surroundings an adapt to the ruthlessness of homelessness.  How would you feel if you left your “comfort” zone and entered a shelter with a sketchy reputation? -- Lost, apprehensive, terrified, submissive, and/or alone. Now imagine being victimized far worse than the derogatory observations you were warned about. Now you have been sexually battered, and abused both mentally and physically. By a system Lady Justice believes in as a solution.

Jolly Roger said it best, “the carrot at the end of the stick which was formerly known as "the American dream" has been replaced by a whip that can best be described as the American nightmare of homelessness, a slow, early death.”

I believe that you become a slave to this epidemic, just as those who fall victim to drug addiction, die. It’s a chronic disease, a black hole that you are unlikely to creep out of. These shelters are not designed for rejuvenation, they are in place to shelter. The demand is beyond overwhelming, the supply—intangible.

I think there are a lot of people that would come right off the street if they knew they had a locked room, if there weren't so much bureaucracy, if these individuals weren't feeling so controlled, and they could kind of breathe a little bit. I think you'd see people come in off the streets more willingly than when the onset of hypothermia and/or frost bit begins.

Living in Boston, I know we have a year-round interagency street outreach network here that's outstanding, very skilled and experienced outreach workers who are likely to know somebody by name, know where they stay, have already discussed some of those fears with them, but it doesn’t matter. They are still reluctant to enter any shelter with people who are not their peers, even though they all have one thing in common; homeless. They certainly are not all the same. Young adults have special needs to tend to and are often able to crawl out of that black hole also known as chronic homelessness, with proper stabilization and treatment.  These shelter’s want to proclaim that they are “prepared” but they are not in any way, shape, or form prepared to tend to the needs of a schizophrenic, sexually abused LGBTQ youth, when they are already housed to capacity and provide shelter to a demographic that is predominately 40 + years old heterosexual CHRONIC homeless ADULTS. Nonetheless, when there are a lot of people in high stress, in close quarters, just does not make for a pleasant situation. As a person, you deserve the right to exist. They deserve the right to have personal space, protected personal space, and for society not to be abusive, that personal space needs to not be violated. Imagine having to ride the “T” after commuting 45 years in your own car, at your own pace, and knowing exactly where to go, when to stop and what you want to hear while stuck in the horrendous Boston traffic. It will be uncomfortable, your anxiety will be at an all-time high, your credibility, wealth, success is not respected and you’re just a blank face engulfed by fearing the unknown, with not a single right to an identity. You become just a John/Jane Doe in a cart full of other John/John Does.

In less time than it took you to read this blog entry, you can make an impact by the simple act of following this link  https://secure2.convio.net/mch/site/Advocacy;jsessionid=649B86CC375993E2470A7983721654AB.app263a?cmd=display&page=UserAction&id=126

This link will bring you to the Coalition’s website where you can take action by filling out an online letter to your State Senator and Representative in support of House Bill 135.

Your legislator at the State House need to hear from you that you support “An Act providing housing and support services for unaccompanied homeless youth”, House Bill 135. The passage of this bill will ensure that by next Christmas there will be hope for at-risk and homeless youth in Massachusetts.

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog entry and, more importantly, for taking action with me!

T. G. 

 

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Tina's story

Posted by Exa Méndez
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on Friday, 06 December 2013
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As Christmas fast approaches, there are thousands of youth experiencing homelessness here in Massachusetts, facing the holiday without a place to call home. Although each of their stories are different, these youth have one common thread, that is – not one of them would ever have imagined they would be homeless this Christmas.

My name is Tina. I know first hand how it feels to be homeless for the holidays. At age 13, by no mistake of my own, my life change forever. Growing up in a home where both my parents battled with addiction, my father died of an overdose and shortly after, my mother was sent to prison.  From that moment on I became an unaccompanied homeless youth, outside the care of a parent or guardian.

At first I was shuffled from family member to family member, sleeping on their couches – never being able to stay too long at any one of their homes. I didn't have much of a choice but to grow up fast as a child. The influence of drugs, alcohol abuse, and mental instability can put a toll on anyone, especially someone who has found themselves constantly fighting a struggle against the world. I learned to survive very quickly. With no parent or formal guardian and with no real home life, I miraculously finished high school magna cum laude.  School became the one place I found refuge from the chaos of my life. 

In the late summer after graduating from high school, I moved to Massachusetts to attend Salem State University. During the school year, I lived in student housing but come summer break I was once again facing homelessness. Desperate to succeed, I had to learn the ins and outs of Massachusetts and the different programs that might be able to help me. With little success, I discovered that there were not many homelessness programs geared for homeless youth – or at least not any places for drug-free and hardworking homeless students. I reached out to agencies searching for solutions and plausible options and there weren't many. They all seemed to lead to a solution no one wants to accept: an adult homeless shelter. It was scary to think that my independence only would lead me to a shelter.

Gratefully, upon moving to Massachusetts, I began building a relationship with my parent’s family. Luckily, I had the opportunity to move in with my 90-year old grandfather. I am one of the fortunate ones but sadly approximately 6,000 unaccompanied youth and young adults in Massachusetts* don’t have a place to go to other than the streets.  Far too many young adults are sleeping in alleys and abandoned buildings. Some are forced into the sex trade or survival sex just to get off the streets; even more turn to alcohol and drugs to dull the pain.

I can only speak for myself, as I have overcome homelessness and adversity. But I'm sure there are many who cry themselves to sleep longing for a way out of their nightmare. That is why I have joined the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless in their fight to end youth homelessness through the passage of House Bill 135: An Act providing housing and support services for unaccompanied homeless youth. To learn more about this bill, please visit www.mahomeless.org. The passage of this Important legislation would make it possible for thousands of youth faced with nowhere to go to have a place to turn. The bill would make it possible for the creation of supportive housing and case management for at-risk and homeless youth throughout out the Commonwealth. As the Coalition mobilizes people from across the state to work for the bill’s passage, the Coalition also is playing a leading role in the Massachusetts Special Commission on Unaccompanied Homeless Youth, which is investigating the scope of youth homelessness and moving forward towards local and statewide solutions to youth homelessness.

In less time than it took you to read this letter, you can make an impact by the simple act of following this link https://secure2.convio.net/mch/site/Advocacy;jsessionid=649B86CC375993E2470A7983721654AB.app263a?cmd=display&page=UserAction&id=126 This link will bring you to the Coalition’s website where you can take action by filling out an online letter to your State Senator and Representative in support of House Bill 135.

Your legislator at the State House need to hear from you that you support “An Act providing housing and support services for unaccompanied homeless youth”, House Bill 135. The passage of this bill will ensure that by next Christmas there will be hope for at-risk and homeless youth in Massachusetts.

Thank you for ttaking the time to read my story and, more importantly, for taking action with me!

For information about the Coalition’s work on unaccompanied youth homelessness, please contact Exa Méndez, Community Organizer/Legislative Advocate, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 781-595-7570 x16 or Kelly Turley, Director of Legislative Advocacy, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 781-595-7570 x17.

- Tina

 

-Tina

 

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Can you spot homelessness in someone's eyes?

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What determines the face of homelessness? Can you spot homelessness in someone’s eyes?
Before beginning my internship at the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless, I did not recognize the face of homelessness. Society blinded me with a stereotype of the homeless population. I am guilty of not acknowledging the homeless population; and I, like many others, succumbed to the belief that homelessness occurred through individual means, not extreme circumstances.

Throughout my time at the Coalition, I met an array of people. These people, young and old, have lived without a home to call their own for either weeks or years. These interactions humbled me, and as a future social worker, humility is a gift. Society teaches us that homelessness occurs because of laziness; it teaches us that homeless people are at fault for their situation; that homeless people are bums, addicts, and thugs terrorizing our neighborhoods. These stereotypes are keeping us from advocating for our fellow man because we become afraid of them. Society neglects to inform us that the homeless population is a strong-willed one. Homelessness can happen to any of us. We’re just lucky that it hasn’t yet.

Homelessness is swept under the rug. This population is made invisible to the rest of us, so we don’t have to worry. Invisibility, however, does not prevent homelessness from becoming your family’s state of being. It could be your brother, your sister, your daughter, or your son. There is only so much a single person can do to prevent homelessness from occurring to their family. Yet you can still make your voice heard.

Currently the Coalition is working on House Bill 135, an Act Providing Housing and Support Services for Unaccompanied Homeless Youth. This bill pursues to reduce youth homelessness by providing funding to housing and support services for unaccompanied youth. Hundreds of youth across

Massachusetts are homeless, yet there are not enough beds for all of them. This bill, if passed, will require agencies to provide services to unaccompanied homeless youth to ensure that they have a place to sleep at night. In order to get this bill passed, we need your support.

Stand up and voice your opinion. Let people know that youth homelessness exists. Make people uncomfortable. Look for inspiration in the eyes of the homeless. This silenced population needs to be heard. Help us break the stereotype of homelessness so we can secure the resources that this population needs. Support House Bill 135.

By: Bianca Carreiro

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The Meaning of Thanksgiving and Youth Homelessness

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Written for the Coalition by T. G. 

What does Thanksgiving mean to me? I used to know, but I'm not sure anymore. 
 
Is it the appreciation to walk into a cozy, warm home, with a key to lock the door?
 
Is it a time where I should cherish the freedoms despite this cold war?
 
Knowing that youth homelessness is growing how can I come before?
 
What can be done? What to achieve? Together we fight to expose this sore. 
 
What does thanksgiving mean to them? Is it the blessing to just stay on some floor?
 
Affection is now a memory. Seeking different means to mask the treachery.
 
Often leading them to an extended stay in the State's penitentiary.
 
On this day there are many kind individuals who offer food for them to eat.
 
However the other 363 non holidays take the backseat. 
 
Bearing the brunt of it all, how are they expected to not drag one’s feet? 
 
Seems as if no one cares, even though this epidemic is not discreet. 
 
Without shelter or shoes on their feet, who would not question if life is a trick or a treat?
 
On the streets they are targets of abuse and very easy prey.
 
As the day turns into night, safety fades away.
 
Thus this world neglects them the opportunity of a single safe place to stay.
 
Abused, abandoned, weak, helpless, and afraid, describes what they think of Thanksgiving Day. 
 
So I ask myself again what does Thanksgiving mean to me. It is a time where I 
 
know something needs to be done. I can volunteer to feed the homeless as often as I am 
 
allowed. Though, what is that accomplishing in the long run? As an advocate my everyday goal 
 
is to raise awareness and to pave a way that creates successes; not overnight stays in 
 
penitentiaries just to stay warm and receive some sort of hot meal and substantial health care. 
 
That is an outcome these young adults are willingly committing to, because they stop using 
 
drugs, receive some mental stability, shelter, and food. The streets allow you to make a family 
 
or a community built on loyalty, but it also brings you to the front door of a dark and regretful 
 
future and/or death. I have never lived on the streets. I have never been without food. Though I 
 
have experienced the anxiety of not knowing what you are going to do to make money and or 
 
where you will be staying tomorrow or next week it doesn’t mean that I can’t relate. My parents 
 
were both drug addicts and my father died because of it, as a family we faced homelessness 
 
every time they overdosed. Holidays were not like what the television channel ABC portrayed. 
 
Now that I reminisce they were quite the opposite. Small, unorganized and nothing to them. 
 
These young adults deserve and Identity other than bums, homeless, degenerates, hoodlums, and 
 
thugs. They are still Michael’s, Ashley’s Stephens, John’s, Adam’s, Jessica’s, Jennifer’s, Nicole’s, 
 
and Andrew’s. They deserve a fair shot at sobriety. Detach them from the addiction to 
 
prostitution, hustling, stealing, drug abuse, alcoholism, and ignorance. To grant them a shed of 
 
light. House Bill 135 starts with a roof over their head and hopefully in conjunction to the 
 
ladder support services that will enable them to achieve sobriety, an education and bettering 
 
their lives. Desiderius Erasmus once said that “Prevention is better than a cure, so give light, 
 
and the darkness will disappear of itself”

By T. G. 
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A road to college for homeless youth

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By Cheryl Opper, founder and executive director of School on Wheels of Massachusetts. This piece originated on the news and opinion website of the New England Board of Higher Education (www.nebhe.org) and shared with the Coalition with authorization of Cheryl. Thank you Cheryl and Marc-Daniel for testifying during the hearing at the State House last July. 

At 18, Suffolk University sophomore Marc-Daniel Paul seems destined for success. A Brockton High School graduate who experienced homelessness as a teen, Paul was chosen as a Bank of America Student Leader and published his first book, “Breathing Ink: The Heart of Poetry,’’ during his senior year in high school. As an intern in the office of state Sen. Mark C. Montigny (D-New Bedford) this summer, Paul wrote an amendment to the Massachusetts State Budget (Section 18 of Chapter 15A of the General Laws) that will save college students with MassHealth insurance coverage thousands of dollars by letting them remain on their health insurance and not be required to buy it from their school.

But beneath the outward signs of Paul’s success is a dramatic example of how one determined young person can overcome the challenges of homelessness and fulfill his dream of a postsecondary education.

The National Center on Family Homelessness estimates only one in four homeless teens will graduate from high school. According to the 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Survey run by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (ESE) in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control, about 13,157 Massachusetts high-school students (4.1 percent) were homeless, including about 5,853 (2 percent) unaccompanied youth. Unaccompanied youth include runaways, youth abandoned by parents or guardians, youth who have fled unsafe home situations, and those who have aged out of foster care. One nonprofit organization in Massachusetts is working to improve these statistics by helping youth affected by homelessness stay in school, graduate and pursue a higher education.

Four years ago, School on Wheels of Massachusetts (SOWMA), added a High School Plus (HSP) program to its menu of educational services. SOWMA is the only organization in Massachusetts providing one-on-one afterschool tutoring/mentoring, new backpacks and school supplies, college assistance and education advocacy and support to children hit by homelessness in multiple communities. SOWMA develops an educational-success plan for each student. The organization connects high school students with colleges, vocational programs and other agencies to help them move forward with their academic goals. When students need help applying, and then meeting the cost of school fees, books, housing deposits, and dorm supplies, SOWMA assists them.

HSP places a special emphasis on the needs of unaccompanied youth and provides advocacy, guidance and support to all students hit by homelessness throughout their postsecondary careers. The HSP staff has moved several students into their college-dorm rooms and attended college orientations when students had no other adult to accompany them.

Jakiel Moses-Harris will enter University of Massachusetts at Boston with a double major in kinesiology and psychology this fall, thanks to the support he received from the HSP. After his family moved into a shelter during his sophomore year in high school, the teenager had trouble staying focused and didn’t have the money for school sports. He felt embarrassed to have friends visit him at the shelter.

Surrounded by turmoil and uncertainty, Moses-Harris signed up for SOWMA while living in the shelter. The organization proved to be a lifeline throughout his ordeal. They matched him with a tutor who served as a role model, and helped him focus. They bought him a new laptop and a book bag filled with supplies, and paid his basketball fees. Despite living in a shelter and “couch surfing” during his 11th and 12th grades, Moses-Harris graduated, became a volunteer trainer for the Canton High School football team, and enrolled in Massasoit Community College. This fall, he will transfer to UMass Boston and work as an assistant coach for the Canton High School football team.

Moses-Harris’s positive experience stands in stark contrast to the tragic outcomes that many unaccompanied youth face. According to a recent report from the Massachusetts Special Commission on Unaccompanied Homeless Youth, unaccompanied and homeless students may endure “multiple school transfers, significant education gaps, frequent absences and tardy arrivals, a lack of supplies and space to do homework and projects, poor medical, dental and mental health care, distractions, and an inability to attend to lessons.” In addition, young people who experience homelessness as adolescents often face futures marked by increased risk of death, exposure to violence, susceptibility to exploitation and high-risk behaviors, and poor academic performance with increased risk of dropping out of school.

With higher education offering a potential avenue out of a bleak alternative, SOWMA has devoted countless hours to increasing the education opportunities for young people hit by homelessness, The HSP program works with both students who are currently homeless as well as those who moved from shelter to housing. SOWMA first meets a student when he or she is homeless.

For Marc-Daniel Paul, HSP created the foundation for the future he dreams of having. “I never would have had the political exposure I had in high school with the Bank of America Student Leader program without School on Wheels,” he said. “They helped me find the program, assisted with my essay, and gave me a clearer vision of what I wanted to do. They’ve had a tremendous impact on helping me get on the path I am on today.”

Source: http://www.providencejournal.com/opinion/commentary/20130820-a-road-to-college-for-homeless-youth.ece

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The Importance of Legislative Action: Reflecting on the Jul 16th Bill Hearing

Posted by Ali Brauner
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Editor's Note: "This summer, I was lucky enough to work as public policy intern with the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless. This experience has been really influential for me as I think about my post graduate options and career choices. I really felt very inspired when helping to organize the bill hearing for House Bill 135."- Ali Brauner

If you’re going to be an organizer, you have to be at peace with pandemonium. It sounds backwards, but it’s true. When you get a big group of passionate people together in one politically-oriented room, things just tend to not go quite as planned. Actually, you might to do well not to have too strict of a plan to begin with- it makes it easier to cope when nothing goes quite the way you expected.

Anyone who’s ever been involved with the legislative process knows that it is, in fact, a process. Turning bills into laws is a long, drawn out, arduous process that took even School House Rock will never really be able to explain. Nevertheless, some of the most important hours in a bill’s life are the ones spent in a Bill Hearing. I was lucky enough to help organize what I believe was a very successful Bill Hearing for House Bill 135, an act to providing housing and supportive services for unaccompanied homeless youth.

First of all, the actual day of the hearing is just the tip of the proverbial bill-hearing iceberg. The work that goes to get organized for those few hours of legislative glory is thankless and tough. The people who worked for weeks behind the scenes aren’t in for money, or for glory, but just for the cause itself. My idea of fun-filled, rewarding afternoon at the office does not necessarily include cold-calling a contact list of more than one hundred people, many of whom no longer work at the listed agencies anymore, leaving voicemails that I know will never get returned. Writing emails that bounce back, or are responded to with “out of office” memos isn’t first on my list of favorite activities. Mobilizing people is hard, but important, and ultimately rewarding work. Thankfully, we didn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, because our success at the bill hearing was worth every hour spent writing emails, making phone calls, creating flyers, and chasing down advocates. And then some.

Finally, July 16th arrived, and room B-1 was set up and waiting for us at 1pm. Earlier that morning, we brought various youth and constituents around to the offices of their senators and state representatives so they could tell their stories and urge their legislators to support house bill 135. Ours was one of 17 bills to be heard that day by the Joint Committee on Children, Families, and Persons with Disabilities, so by the time we arrived outside the hearing room, it was already packed.

Despite the sheer pandemonium, there is a vague method to this legislative madness. Here’s essentially what happens. When a bill is submitted for consideration by legislators, it is assigned a number and a joint committee, made up of members from both the Senate and the House of Representatives, who will read and review the bill. House Bill 135 was assigned to the Joint Committee on Children, Families, and Persons with Disabilities. The members of this committee gather in the room and announce the order in which the bills will be heard. All the supporters of various bills who are present and planning to give testimony are asked to sign in ahead of time so the committee knows what to expect. Then, each bill is announced individually, and the committee listens as each concerned citizen comes forward and speaks either in favor of or against the bill in question. As each bill is supported and sponsored by at least one State Senator or State Rep, they ask all the legislators to testify first.

While this seems like a fairly straightforward process, complication occurs in the details. People are constantly running around, asking which bill is being heard currently, which bill is up next, looking for their supporters, trying to regain some kind of control on this runaway legislative train.

But really, that’s part of the excitement of the day. Yes, there is a lot of waiting that happens at a bill hearing, but there is also a lot of time for good conversation. People come in and out of the tight hearing room as one bill finishes and a new one begins. It just so happened that July 16th was a particularly hot, muggy Tuesday, so the hearing room got very warm. It was packed to the prim with supporters of many different bills. Finally, after more than an hour and a half of waiting and checking, they announced that we’d be next. We collected all our supporters and testifiers and made our way into the crowded room.

More than twenty people showed up to give testimony for House Bill 135, and more than half of them were unaccompanied youth themselves. Really, that’s where the magic happens. Adults and direct care providers, advocates and state senators, they can talk until they’re blue in the face and perhaps they’ll encourage a little bit of feeling out of a member of the committee. But when a woman, twenty-one-year-young, who was kicked out of her home at age sixteen for being gay, exercises intense bravery and tells her story, legislators listen. When a young person who ran away from an abusive foster home recounts his trials and his experience with homelessness, law makers pay attention. This is where the real change takes place. These youth were able to humanize this bill, this piece of paper, and turn an issue that, for them, had been just about policy, into something about very real, very at-risk people. For one whole hour, our supporters testified in Room B-1 in support of House Bill 135.

It was really incredible to be in that room and watch it all happen. Because of the number of people who had showed up for other bills that day, I wasn’t able to listen to any of the testimony given in support or defense of other bills, but for one hour, I listened as policy advocates, providers, supporters, and youth explained the desperate need for housing and services that don’t exist for unaccompanied youth experiencing homelessness.

The importance of public policy advocacy and legislative action is tremendous, and the need for direct interaction between constituents and their legislators is never more apparent than when it’s actually taking place before your eyes. When you watch the way that the legislators become invested and excited by the stories they hear, you can watch the issue turn from an act of policy into an act of social justice and humanity. That’s why it’s so important to get involved in legislative advocacy, because this is the avenue for widespread change.

If and when we are able to pass House Bill 135, housing and supportive services will become available to youth who don’t feel safe at adult emergency shelters, who don’t have anywhere else to go. Young people who have been forced to trade sexual favors for a place to sleep, or joined a gang or sold drugs just as a means of survival, will have a shot a normal life when we can put a roof over their heads.

I’m so grateful to have had this experience, not only to attend, but to have been a part of organizing it. Hopefully this was just the first of many bill hearings in a life full of legislative action and public policy advocacy.

 

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Young woman overcomes homelessness and becomes an advocate for the youth

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Editor's note: This testimony was given at the State House before the Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with disabilities, and shared with the Coalition by the author. We thank this young lady for her bravery to speak up for the youth who currently experience homelessness and for sharing her story with with us. 

My testimony 

Overcoming homelessness was not easy and I am no where near oblivious to the fact that it's only a single bad decision away from all reoccurring again. Like most my youth homelessness wasn't caused from my own single wrong doings, it was the result of two very irresponsible parents losing their battles against drugs. My father died due to an overdose, I was 13; my mother near death herself gratefully very shorty went to prison. In a moments time, I fell into a growing statistic of unaccompanied youth. I was shuffled from family member to family member couch to couch. I didn't have many options.

I miraculously finished high school  Magna Cum Lade and accepted the offer to come to Salem State University. Desperate to succeed, I had to learn the ins and outs of Massachusetts and the different programs and with no prevail I discovered that there were not many homelessness prevention programs. Or at least not any places for drug free and hard working homeless students. I discovered that because I was a full time student, working three jobs; resulting in substantial income, a savings account and drug free, that the homeless shelters and or programs were primarily focused around half way houses, rehabs, or legal orders. I was not eligible. I couldn't help but to decipher what that meant. I was practically out of luck. Quite frankly, it all didn't matter. I argued that I was simply one denied loan and or one wrong decision that my past would yet again become the present, and could easily become eligible.

 I didn't have much of a choice but to grow up fast as a child, so, in survival mode I did the same as I would back home, to become independent.  I reached out to agencies searching for solutions and plausible options and there weren't many. All the ends tied into one, a solution no one wants to accept; a shelter. It was scary to even think that my independence only lead me to a shelter. The hard work and diligence all to remove myself from the same surrounding as I grew up in, would all surface again.

The influence of drugs, alcohol abuse and mental instability can put a toll on anyone, especially to someone who has found themselves constantly fighting a fight; against the world. I learned to survive very quickly. I worked more hours and studied more to remain in college. It seemed as if all was right in my world until, my education was jeopardized.  I was expected to pay more per semester and I was at risk of losing my housing. I was left with the same prior decision; a shelter or to pay for an apartment and drop out of school. Gratefully in a years time, I began building a relationship with my father and mother's distant family. However, luckily I have had the opportunity to move in with my grandfather.

Though not many receive a golden opportunity in their life against homelessness. I can only speak for myself, as I have overcome homelessness and adversity. But I'm sure there are many who cry themselves to sleep longing for the same thing.  I am only one person and I am certain that House-bill 135  will give the golden opportunity to change that.

Anonymous - 2013, Massachusetts

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Dr. Alice Colegrove, Public Health Consultant, Youth Homelessness and Housing expert, supports House Bill 135

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Editor's note: This testimony was shared with the Coalition after being presented before the Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities on July 16, 2013 during a hearing on House Bill 135, at the Massachusetts State House. 
 
My name is Dr. Alice Colegrove, and I have spent more than a decade listening to and advocating for homeless young people here in Massachusetts.  These young people are all-too often a hidden population, and they are some of our most vulnerable citizens. 
 
There was a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, where a cohort of 1013 street youth aged 14-25 were surveyed over several years.  One of the most striking outcomes of the study was that the mortality rate of these homeless young people was nearly ten times as high as the overall death rate for young adults in the United States. After all other factors were accounted for, being homeless meant that a young person was ten times more likely to die than their housed peers. From a public health perspective, such dramatic disparities in health outcomes warrant strategic interventions. 
 
I have personally attended seven funerals and memorial services for kids I knew from the streets. I don’t want that number to go up. A young woman I know well became homeless when she was 17. I met her when she was nineteen and homeless on the streets of Harvard Square. She was addicted to heroin and was regularly being transported by ambulances to emergency rooms and detoxes at least once a month for several years. Just this week I saw some ambulance bills from another friend, who is homeless, and each ambulance ride from Harvard Square to Mt. Auburn or Cambridge Hospital cost around $2000… and that was just the transportation costs.  So, when my young friend was in and out of emergency rooms for overdoses, suicide attempts, infected abscesses, etc, Massachusetts was paying tens of thousands of dollars for her care. I once spent several weeks visiting her in the emergency room and ICU, as a ventilator kept her alive after another near-death overdose. Then, after weeks in the hospital, she was released… back to the streets.  Every day for her was unknown. There was little motivation to live. But, when she was 24 she got offered supportive housing.  Today she has nearly six years sober from heroin, and I recently celebrated her 30like dancing and eating cupcakes in her living room. Thanks to a supportive housing program, she is alive and thriving, and the cost savings is astronomical.  The MA Housing and Shelter Alliance reported in June 2013 that there was an annual cost savings of $9,464 for every chronically homeless person housed with supportive services.  Similar cost savings could most likely be applied to many homeless young adults who are given supportive housing, but more than the money saved, there are lives saved. 
 
Providing housing to homeless youth now–as opposed to after decades of being on and off the streets—allows them to quickly return to socialization, which positively affects their health and their ability to live independently and become successful, and contributing members of their communities. More importantly, vulnerable young people will finally be able go “home.”  
 
House Bill 135 "An Act Providing Housing and Supportive Services to Unaccompanied Youth" seeks to do that. It aims to reduce youth homelessness and its adverse effects by funding a continuum of housing and support services geared specifically for unaccompanied homeless youth.  By supporting this bill, you can help put an end to the consequences borne by homelessness by investing in housing and supportive services for unaccompanied youth. You can prevent more funerals and support more birthday parties in these kids’ own living rooms. 
 
Thank you.
 
Dr. Alice Colegrove
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Young adult experiencing homelessness speaks up!

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Editor's note: This testimony was shared with the Coalition and submitted by LaShawna to the Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities on July 16th, 2013 during a hearing at the State House on House Bill 135 "An act providing housing and support service to unaccompanied homeless youth" . On behalf of the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless we thank LaShawna and all the brave young adults who decided to speak up!  For more information on Youth on Fire please visit Youth on Fire's website. 

 

Hi, my name is LaShawna, and I am 24 years old. I have been struggling with homelessness most of my life.

People say terrible things to young adults who are homeless. They say things like:

 

“You just need to get a job”

“You have no life”

“You make me sick”

“You stink”

“You just use the money for drugs”

 

But I want to tell you that no matter how tough we are, negativity still hurts. We are strong and resourceful survivors, but being homeless and young is a struggle.  And the longer you stay on the streets the harder it gets.

 

Just getting a good night’s sleep is hard to find – I have stayed in shelters, on a bench, and sometimes family’s house.  If I can’t stay with family, I prefer to stay in the shelters, because staying outside is too dangerous. The biggest worry outside is experiencing violence – you never know if someone is going to attack you or steal your stuff and you just cant get to sleep if you’re worried about that. In the shelters you also worry about violence and other people – sometimes people do drugs next to you, or pick on you if new or young, or steal your things. The main difference between staying outside and staying in a shelter is that you don’t have to worry about the weather; and I know plenty of young folks who would rather stay outside than in the shelters.

 

I started coming to Youth on Fire four years ago. Since then, I have had support to apply for housing, work on my resume; find a job, eat a full meal, and do my laundry. I have also talked to the staff and taken part in a Peer Leader Program. YOF staff helped me apply for school and now I am at ITT Tech studying to be a computer technician.  These things have been important for me, because if I didn’t have these opportunities, I would have been on the streets getting into trouble or in jail.

 

And its not just important for me, but for all of us who use places like Youth on Fire  -- when everybody thinks the worst of you, its hard to get the confidence up to do the things you need to do. When you don’t have the proper clothes or don’t have a place to shower, it’s hard to get a job. If you don’t have a place to get food, its hard to focus on anything. And if you don’t have people to talk to when you feeling down, its hard to just survive through another day.

 

Although we are homeless, we still have hearts. We still care what people think about us, we care about how we look, act and feel. We are still somebody’s son or daughter, sister or brother, nephew or niece. 

 

If YOF and other programs like it weren’t here, half of us wouldn’t still be here.  

 

I hope that after hearing me speak today you will pass House Bill 135, the Homeless Youth Bill, and give it as much funding as you can.  Young people like me need your support to get through these difficult times.

 

LaShawna - 2013

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A Youth Advocate Testifies at the State House: Written Testimony

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Editor's Note: This testimony was written by a young woman named Glenda Torres, and as submitted in written form to the members of the Joint Committee on Children, Families, and Persons with Disabilities at the July 16th hearing on House Bill 135. This is her story. 

An Advocate Writes to Legislators to Support Unaccompanied Youth Experiencing Homelessness

When I was a little girl people always told me that I can be whatever I wanted to be and I believed them. All my life I tried my hardest because I wanted to get somewhere important. But what those people left out was that sometimes things don’t work out exactly the way I planned them to. 

I was on my way through college and making my way to the real world. Then I hurt my back. My whole world turned upside down. My mother abusing me but to her it was her way of teaching me wisdom. I was a “damaged human being” well that’s what she said anyways. I knew somehow there was still a future for me. I wouldn’t even dare to tell her that I am a lesbian and that I have the most wonderful partner. A person who was made just for me and that I had found her. My mother threatened every gay, lesbian or transgendered person who ever passed her way. My home became an imprisoned theater stage where I had to act like I was not hurting physically and where I had to act like I was still looking for a perfect boyfriend. I wanted to break away. I had to leave this place.

So I looked for help. I was always telling people of how many resources there were for children and families. The problem for me was that I was no longer a child and I was not ready to start a family of my own just yet. I had no answers. The places I went for help asked if I was in danger where I was living I said “Yes.” They answered, “where is the police report?” Now I understand that some people need to call the police but it is my mother who was abusing me. My mother that I adore and love and I knew she did not mean harm. So I asked if there was anyone that could help me? They said not unless I had money for rent, had a child or had substance abuse.

I could felt my heart getting heavy and my soul getting weary. I could not smile without crying because my smile came with tears of darkness. I prayed . The only source I did not use yet was my God. I respect if you do not believe in a higher power but I do because I received a call that changed my life. I was recommended from Catholic Charities to Journeys of Hope. “This agency might be able to help you” was said to me.

So I called and right away and Susan answered. I briefly told her my story she said to come by and talk to Felix and they would see how they could help me. It was honestly the most sincere answer I had ever gotten. It felt like she already cared about me but she hadn’t even met me.

When I walked in I felt like I walked into an Aunt’s house that hadn’t visited in a long time. They had couches and breakfast for us. For me food is my ultimate comfort thing. I quickly learned that it is a safe place. Especially having Felix around makes it feel like my big brother is there looking out for me.

Aside from a new life I also needed some everyday items. I never seemed to notice how much we need simple things until I couldn’t get them. When I went to Journeys of Hope they made sure to tell me that it was safe to tell them if I needed anything. In reality I needed everything from a toothbrush to toilet paper. But I just asked for a toothbrush. It was like they could sense that I needed something else and Journeys of Hope provided me with everything I truly needed. I started to feel secure again.

I was very hurt emotionally and physically. My back had been through so much torture because of how hard my mother had pushed me to work. Emotionally I was, well worn out and I did not have absolutely anyone to talk to or confine in. I was holding in so much pain and sadness when I arrived to Journeys of Hope. Felix called my insurance and quickly got to work. He figured out whom I could see for my back pain and if there were any resources for transportation. Susan helped me with setting me up with a clinician. Susan also helped me with her support. Every time I went to the doctor’s office I felt like my whole world had crumbled again and Susan made sure I felt better by the time I had to leave the program.

I started to really think what is going to happen in a few months and then Susan said “How about going back to school?” I honestly never thought I would be back in school. The thought of being a student was so far from me I had to think about it. Felix and Susan encouraged me so much that I was no longer so scared to go for it! The resources they had were unbelievable! And Thank You for the people and agencies that put their hand out to help.

Felix said lets step back for a moment and look at where you are now and where you are heading. I smiled for the first time in almost a year and that was a real smile. A smile that started from lips all the way to my heart. They quickly helped me.  Not in a way that you help someone else by opening the door or carrying something for them. Journeys of Hope helped me by giving me my life back. They had faith in me to begin a new chapter and if they have come to you then they must have faith in you too. Faith that all of us together can change the world we live in. 

 

Glenda Torres

July 16, 2013

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Testimony From an Advocate: BARCC Supports House Bill 135 with Testimony at the Bill Hearing

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Editor's Note: This testimony was submitted on July 16th to the Joint Committee on Children, Families, and Persons with Disabilities at the Hearing for House Bill 135. It was written by Stephanie Trilling, the Youth Outreach Coordinator at the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center (BARCC). Thank you, Steph! 

July 16, 2013

Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities

State House, Room 413C & 146

Boston, MA 02133

 

Dear Chairman Barrett, Chairwoman Khan and Honorable Members of the Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities:

 

I am the Youth Outreach Coordinator at the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center (BARCC).  BARCC has a service area of twenty-nine cities and towns and over three million people; we provide approximately 30% of all sexual violence survivor services for those 12 years and older in the state. In fiscal year 2013 we provided 153 survivors, age 12 to 24, with counseling and/or housing and economic stability assistance.On behalf of BARCC, I am writing in support of H.135 An Act Providing Housing and Support Services for Unaccompanied Homeless Youth, a.k.a. Unaccompanied Homeless Youth Act.

 

Homelessness is an issue affecting too many young people in the United States. The National Alliance to End Homelessness estimates that during a year there are approximately 550,000 unaccompanied young people up to age 24 who experience a homelessness episode of longer than one week. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education estimates that nearly 6,000 high school students are experiencing homelessness and out on their own. Thousands more unaccompanied young people experiencing homelessness are not reflected in these numbers because they have already dropped out of school or are older and have finished school. There is a critical need for increased shelter, housing options and other support services for young people living without their parents or legal guardians.

 

Sexual violence is prevalent among youth and it affects this population disproportionately. According to the 2011 Massachusetts Youth Health Survey and the 2011 Massachusetts Youth Risk Behavior Survey, between 13-14% of high school females and 5% of high school males report experiencing sexual assault at some point in their young lives. Sexual violence is often cited as the reason unaccompanied young people are not residing in a safe and stable permanent housing situation; 61% of homeless girls and 19% of homeless boys report sexual abuse as the reason for leaving home (Estes & Weiner, 2001). Once homeless, with a lack of supportive housing and other stabilization services, a young person’s vulnerability for experiencing sexual violence exponentially increases; this is particularly true for homeless LGBTQ youth who may be at heightened risk for sexual exploitation and violence. 

 

Homelessness, or being on the precipice of becoming homeless, is a very real concern for numerous young people in the Commonwealth.  At BARCC we often encounter sexual assault survivors who, as a result of sexual violence, do not have a safe place to live.  I’d like to share with you the story of one such survivor.  Barbara is a 23 year old single, lesbian survivor who was recently sexually assaulted by her roommate of 2 months in their shared apartment. She lost her job and her home of 3 years after the incident. Barbara has no other safe housing alternatives besides the domestic violence shelter where she is currently staying. She is concerned about her housing stability and getting all the support she needs to become economically stable again.

 

Barbara’s story represents the struggles of many of the clients we serve at BARCC.  The housing obstacles unaccompanied young people may face can be insidious and ultimately hamper their ability to stabilize and restore their lives. An enhancement of housing and residential stability options, together with other stability support services, for young people in the Commonwealth will translate into improved educational, physical and mental health outcomes for this vulnerable population. 

 

I would like to thank the Members of the Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities for your consideration of this crucial legislation.

 

Sincerely,

Steph Trilling, MSW

Youth Outreach Coordinator

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Advocate Speaks up in Support of House Bill 135 During a Hearing at the Massachusetts State House

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Editor's note: This testimony was writtern and submitted by Jamie Minton to the Join Committee on Chilndren, Families, and Persons with Disabilities on July 16th, during the hearing on House Bill 135 "An Act Providing Housing and Services to Unaccompanied Homeless Youth" , and was shared with the Coalition. 

Advocate speaks up in support of House Bill 135 

Good afternoon- my name is Jamie Minton and I am the Director of Development and Communications at Homes for Families speaking in support of House Bill 135.  As you might know, Homes for Families works with parents that have experienced or are currently experiencing homelessness to bring the consumer voice and experience to the policy making table.  We do this through interviews, focus groups, regular meetings and more, but what really drives and empowers us to continue our work in even the hardest of times is the stories of these families, so I would like to share with you just one that illuminates the need for widespread support of this bill.

A few weeks ago on my way to the T, I passed a young woman, about 20 years old, with a sign that said “Homeless, anything helps”, a few bags, a cup for collecting money- and her two year old son.   I introduced myself as an advocate and before I could even ask how I could help, she exclaimed, “Oh thank God. I was denied shelter and have nowhere to stay tonight.” 

As I heard more of her story, I couldn’t understand why this young person who had been sleeping on the streets and surfing multiple couches for the past three months as she avoided her abusive ex-boyfriend was ineligible for emergency assistance.  Her reason for denial was because she had family in Western Massachusetts. Despite the fact that she was without transportation, hadn’t lived with them in years or their inability to help, they were expected to be her only safety net.  As I followed up with this determination, I was informed that she needed to apply in Western Mass because that’s where her family lived, even though she did not and has not since before she was 18.  She’s never had the fortune of having her name on a lease, or bills to show her trail, and her son is too young to be enrolled in school.  She couldn’t prove anything. 

For this I have two questions- How could she? And why should she have to? She’s 20, her son is 2 and she has nowhere else to go for help…what other explanation does anyone really need?

Well…I, for one, need the explanation of what system this young woman fits in to.

This accidental outreach acts as one of many examples of the gaps within our system. While I am very proud to say I live in a “Right to Shelter” state, it’s sometimes very hard to figure out who has that actual right to shelter.  Having been unaccompanied for years, the intricacies of this girl’s story show that because of her individual circumstances, there is not an established place for her within our system and because of that she, and many other youth with similar stories, have fallen through the holes of our safety net and naturally enter systems for adults…regardless of their ages or needs.

HB 135 will fill tighten some of those holes by encouraging a collaborative effort to support young homeless people in Massachusetts so that we can provide help where they actually need it instead of help where we assume they need it or no help at all.  It fixes the occasionally incorrect statement that Massachusetts takes a one-size-fits-all approach to homelessness and provides options that can better support individual situations.

If I’ve learned anything through listening to the stories of families who work through HFF, it’s that no one has the same story. However, we are trying to get everyone through the same front door when the rooms they need to reach should be filled with completely different services and resources- especially for our youth. 

This story is not simply just one example that stands alone. It represents the lack of options given to young homeless people in the Commonwealth and the life that so many of them live.  Had a bill like this been in place when this young girl began her experience with homelessness, she may have had the chance to overcome it before falling out of the youth category, but not quite into the family category. Thank you for listening to this story, and I hope that through it, you find the need for clarification, data and collaboration within the unaccompanied youth homeless system – all things that HB 135 will ensure.   

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A student advocates for the passage of House Bill 135

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Editor's note: This testimony was submitted to the Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Dissabilities during the hearing on House Bill 135, and was shared with the Coalition by Kevin Lilly. 

Testimony in support of House Bill 135

My name is Kevin Lilly. I’m a 21-year-old senior at Lasell College as well as an intern for both F.A.M.I.L.Y. Movement and the Center for Social Innovation.

Youth homelessness is an issue very near and dear to my heart. When I was younger I had this image of a person experiencing homelessness being just a dirty crazy old man who smelled like pee and beer stumbling around with a cardboard sign asking for money. As I grew up and got involved more in my community I realized that was not the case at all. Volunteering in events like Christmas in the City, the Boston Public Health Commission’s backpack giveaway, Alternative Spring Break others were important to me because it showed me the heartbreaking reality of how poverty effects families and especially younger children. I left feeling not only grateful for what I had, but driven to make a difference for the sake of those innocent kids who are the next generation of this city.

Another thing that had a dramatic effect on me and changed my perspective was finding out a few people I go to school with, work with, played on teams with, etc. are homeless. The issue of poverty truly hit me on another level when I came to the realization that it just didn’t affect those “dirty crazy old guys” but my peers as well. I remember once in high school I was having a conversation with the woman in charge of the school’s diversity office about poverty and she mentioned how one of my classmates was homeless, and how she took it upon herself to make him PB&J sandwiches every day so he could at least have something to eat. It’s one thing seeing people you don’t know who are homeless, but when you discover people you know who are homeless the feeling can best be described as a “unexpected blow to the gut”.

During my time volunteering, interning and advocating for people experiencing homelessness I hear a lot of their stories. While I would love to claim I’m a tough guy I have to admit that many of the stories I’ve heard have gotten me very aggravated and some have even brought me close to tears. What many of these people, especially the youth go through and experience is nothing short of powerful and amazing. Their stories add fuel to my fire and drive me to keep fighting harder.

I thank God that I never experienced homelessness, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to just turn a blind eye to my peers who are. I wish more young people weren’t as apathetic to the plight of their homeless peers, but were more aware of it and more involved in helping to change it. As a Christian I believe it's my duty to follow in the example of Jesus and fight for those less fortunate. I believe I shouldn't be so heavenly minded that I'm no earthly good. It would be a shame of me to not come to the defense of those who are in serious need.

Many in society unfortunately judge these young people by their present circumstances, what they do to survive, their appearance, and other factors but what these young people don't need is another judge, but instead they need help.

These homeless youth not only are the future of this fine city and state, but they are the future of this nation as well. We should value our future, and not throw it away. These young people have dreams, goals and potential. These young people are future leaders, advocates, entrepreneurs, artist, teachers, counselors, etc. All they need is a little help. Let’s not allow their present circumstances to define their life. We need change. I have read the bill, and I believe the bill is a great start in improving this youth homelessness problem in MA. The bill would allow us to get a better count of these young people which I believe is great because with a more accurate count we could wisely use resources instead of having way too much or way too little.

This bill would help us become more proactive instead of reactive. According to a 2011 stat homeless youth are more likely to abuse drugs and join gangs than their housed counterparts. I’m sure all taxpayers in this room would agree that they would rather have their tax dollars go towards programs & resources to help these homeless youth get back on their feet as opposed to their tax dollars going towards keeping some of these young people incarcerated for long periods of time, if not the rest of their life.  Also another danger is young people who do experience homelessness are much more likely to continue to stay in the cycle of poverty and remain homeless through adulthood. Poverty is like a powerful current and these young people are caught in the middle of it. If they aren’t given a helping hand to pull them out of, there is the possibility we could lose them forever.

We have the chance to make a difference here; let’s not let this opportunity pass us by. Many of these young people feel like there is no hope and no one cares: let’s prove them wrong. As elected officials I urge you to show these young people that you just don’t care about them when you are in need of their vote, but you care about them even when they are at their lowest. Proverbs 3:27 says, “Do not withhold good from those who deserve it when it's in your power to help them.” You all are in a position to do something good in the lives of these young people in this room as well as many of those who are homeless in our schools, cities, towns, and throughout this state. Don’t pass up this opportunity to do a positive action and help end this cycle of homelessness that effects many young people across Massachusetts. These young people and advocates in this room today are counting on you. Let make sure poverty for these young people is just a stair to climb in the journey we call life, and not a cell that holds them for life. Please help us pass House Bill 135.

 Thank you.

K. Lilly 

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Accompany the Youth! July 16th, 1pm: A Hearing for House Bill 135

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College students often hear the word “participate” leaving the mouths of older, more experienced, and seemingly wiser adults with the kind of simultaneous passion and frustration that we ourselves experience on a day to day basis. Apply for a job. Find an apartment. Figure out the meaning of life, the universe, and everything. When you’re 14, or, 18, or 21, your plate can look pretty full when you’re so used to looking at it through the tiny little microscope of our age-appropriate existence. 

I remember listening to high school teachers, and then again college professors, as they hammered away about the importance of participating in the democratic process and feeling convinced. The idea that “if you don’t vote, you can’t complain,” seemed to make a whole lot of sense to me.

As an Advocacy Intern at Mass Coalition for the Homeless, I’ve learned even in the short amount of time that I’ve been working here that participation in the democratic process is not just a way for us as citizens to exercise our rights, and it’s not just a way for us to all make our individual and collective voices heard: participation in the democratic process is a tedious, frustrating, and passionate avenue for wide-spread activism and policy change. 

Unfortunately, apathy is the major villain of my generation. A high level of disinterest in the present state of our public policy and militant laziness have crippled our democracy because such an enormous and important voice in our demographic is staying silent. But I refuse to be one of the unheard masses. I’m 21 year-old senior in college who rides her bike to work because she can’t afford gas. I’m choosing to participate, and I’m choosing to be a part of the change. 

Voting is not the only way to participate. That’s why I’m so excited to go to the hearing on July 16th at the State House to speak out in support of House Bill 135, “An Act providing house and support services to unaccompanied homeless youth” in Massachusetts. And I’m not the only young person who’s going to be participating, either. Providers and advocacy groups from the cross the Commonwealth are rallying their young people, whether they are unaccompanied youth who have experienced homelessness, or just young adults who want to support their peers, to come to Boston on the day of the hearing and stand in solidarity with us! 

In the case of House Bill 135, youth participation is even more important than normal because it addresses a youth issue in Massachusetts. House Bill 135, or the Unaccompanied Youth Homelessness Bill, is an act that will provide supportive services and housing options to young people through the age of 24 who are not in the physical custody of a parent or caring adult, and who lack a fixed, regular, adequate nighttime residence. These are young people who are experiencing homelessness all alone. 

A young adult’s reason for experiencing homelessness, such as being rejected by their family for identifying as part of the LGBTQ community, or running away from an abusive household, may be very different from an older person’s reason for experiencing homelessness, such as job-loss, mental health, or veteran-related issues. Drop-in shelters, whose regular guests may be fifty or sixty-year old veterans or people with mental health issues, are not necessarily a safe place for a high-school junior to sleep. There are few, if any, shelters for young people. Without a safe place to sleep, a young person’s options for survival are limited. They may chose to trade sexual favors for food or a safe place to sleep. They may, as some have testified, chose to move in with a partner of subpar moral character and find themselves in an unhealthy relationship or living situation. 

All of these added pressures make it much more likely that a high-school student experience homelessness will drop or fail out of school. With no home and no high school diploma, their options become fewer and fewer. Those who experience homelessness as an adolescent or young adult are much more likely to experience homelessness again as an adult. All of these factors make it absolutely imperative that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts institute a plan to provide better services and housing that meet the very specific needs of youth and young adults who are experiencing homelessness.  

So while youth involvement in the democratic process is always important, and should always ben encouraged, youth involvement takes on a whole new level of power in the case of House Bill 135: youth supporting youth. Young people are taking public policy into their own hands and demanding the supportive services they need for themselves, and for their peers. 

Youth can’t do it on their own, though! These are young people who have lacked a caring adult in their life for too long. They need the support of their peers, and they need the support of the adults who refuse to let them go unseen by our social services and our school systems any longer. They need you to personally stand up and say, “It is unacceptable for our young people to experience homelessness. It is unacceptable for our government to overlook the obvious need for adequate housing and supportive services they need to enter into the adult world with every opportunity for a better future.” 

Supporting the Unaccompanied Youth Homelessness Bill supports thousands of young people who need you, whose names we don’t know, who slip through the cracks, who drop out of or even graduate high school, who are 24 and under and yet are veterans, or who have been targeted or disowned because they identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, or queer. 

We need you at the hearing on July 16th. We need you because there are not enough housing supportive service options for youth experiencing homelessness. We need you because no young person should ever need to resort to illicit activities just to feed themselves of have a safe place to sleep. We need you because we still don’t know just how many young people experience homelessness, and we need to start addressing their needs today!

 

Come on July 16th and “Accompany the Youth” into a better future. Give testimony. Hold a sign. Help us fill up the room with support! Click here for a flyer on the hearing.

 

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Homelessness and Youth: Impacts and How YOU Can Help!

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Editor's note: This entry was submitted orginally to the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center's (BARCC) blog on June 21st by Stacey.  The link to this blog page is listed above. We have their permission to share this entry here. 

Homelessness and Youth: Impacts and How YOU Can Help!

A couple of weeks ago, I attended a survivor speaker event put on by the Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance.  First a staff member gave the audience a framework in which to think about homelessness and those who are impacted.  Then we heard from two young adults who experienced homelessness as part of their youth.  Listening to their stories, what they endured, and the strength and resilience they displayed was such a powerful event. 


I think one of the best points that both young women made was how each of them talked about how they initially denied that they were experiencing homelessness.  They commented how they had ideas of who was homeless and what those individuals were supposed to look like.  I think that many people have similar perceptions and stereotypes about the causes of homelessness and who is impacted.  The truth is that many individuals are at risk for homelessness whether because of a natural disaster, an unforeseen expense (like medical care), or other major life events that drains the savings a family may have or leave them unable to afford their current living arrangements. 


We also know that violence can be a huge precipitating factor for homelessness. Sometimes people flee their abusive partners and might not have any where to go or may end up bouncing from friend to friend while looking for more stable options.  Sometimes after a sexual assault from a stranger, friend, or acquaintance, people are afraid to return to their home because the perpetrator knows where they live.  These people are then also forced to either find shelter, alternative housing, or temporarily live with friends and family.  None of these options are optimal and oftentimes creates additional risk or vulnerability. 


One of the speakers commented on how important her mother was during this time in order for her to make it through the experience of homelessness.  She commented how her mother’s strength and ability to advocate for the family made her realize that she could also be strong through the situation.  However, not all young people have their parents or other supportive adults to help them through these situations.  The second young woman became homeless after her mother’s debilitating physical condition had used up much of the family resources and her father had committed suicide.  The mother was able to stay in a nursing home but this left the young woman homeless and alone at the age of 15.  She was able to bounce around between friends and their parents for a place to sleep but never had a solid place to call home, to study, and to be a regular teenager.  She commented on how being homeless exacerbated and created mental health issues for her. 

Both women talked about how relying on the shelter system was extremely stressful and took time away from addressing other needs that could have helped to pull them out of homelessness.  Many shelters operate on a per-night basis meaning that individuals and all their belongings must be gone in the morning and you must win a ‘lottery’ each day in order to be able to sleep at the homeless shelter the following evening.  One of the turning points for the second young woman was being accepted into Bridge over Trouble Waters transitional living program which gave her a continuous space to stay for up to 6 months so that she could focus on other aspects of life: basic needs, getting a job, addressing mental health needs, etc.


Our awareness of unaccompanied homeless youth is growing and we are realizing that the resources that currently exist are not enough to provide adequate services to them.  In the state of MA, it is estimated that more than 6,000 students are experiencing homelessness without the support of a parent or legal guardian. 


The impacts that homelessness can create on these youth are numerous and long-lasting.  Without a safe and secure place to continuously rely on, it is increasingly difficult for youth to focus on school and academics.  This may result in poor performance or grades or perhaps the youth will completely drop out of school altogether.  The options that these individuals would have had they stayed in school (college, scholarships, jobs, friends, extracurriculars, etc) are completely out of grasp because of their living situation. 


Youth who are alone are more likely to be exploited or sexually abused.  Frequently youth are trading sex in exchange for a place to live.  Youth can also be forced to choose between living in an abusive relationship/environment or sleeping on the street.  While they may not want to stay in the relationship they may choose to do so in order to avoid the unknown violence or experience of staying on the street. 
Youth experience homelessness for a variety of reasons.  One of the speakers exemplified how life circumstances can leave a youth with no parents or caregivers to look over them.  Other youth are trying to escape violent home or foster care situations.  Others are thrown out of their homes when they come out as LGBTQ to their families. 


Regardless of the reason, the current housing options and supportive services are not enough to handle the number of unaccompanied youth who are currently homeless.  Many services are not able to serve unaccompanied youth which places further stress on the few that do.  But there is something that we can do!


On July 16th, House Bill 135 will be presented at the State House in Boston (Room B2 1pm for those who want to come!).  This bill will provide funding and allow providers in Massachusetts to offer the kinds of services to unaccompanied youth that will assist in ending the cycle of homelessness. 


Join many youth homelessness advocates that day (State House, Room B2, 1pm).  If you can’t join us then contact your legislator and ask them to convey their support of the bill to the Conference Committee.  You can find your representative’s contact information here:  http://www.wheredoivotema.com

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