Right now, there is a bill in the Massachusetts House of Representatives Committee on Ways and Means that could impact thousands of youth.
The Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless is the lead organization behind House Bill 3838, An Act Providing Housing and Support Services for Unaccompanied Homeless Youth. This bill, sponsored by Representative James O'Day and supported by the Commission for Mission & Justice of the MA Conference, seeks to reduce youth homelessness and its adverse effects by funding a continuum of housing and support services geared specifically for unaccompanied homeless youth. The goal of these efforts is to improve housing and residential stability, reduce the risk of harm, and improve educational, physical and mental health outcomes for this population.
An "unaccompanied homeless youth" refers to a youth between the ages of 14 and 22, who does not have access to stable, adequate housing and is not in the care of a parent or guardian. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education estimates that nearly 6,000 high school students are homeless and on their own. Thousands more homeless youth are not reflected in these numbers because they have already dropped out of school and cannot be accounted for.
The Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless is working to pass this bill and expand its public education campaign about unaccompanied youth experiencing homelessness through its launch of an innovative video project initiative.
The goal of the Unaccompanied Youth Video Project is to gather the voices and stories of youth who have experienced/are experiencing homelessness in order to engage the Commonwealth in better understanding their struggles and needs. In addition to hearing from those who are experiencing or have experienced homelessness as an unaccompanied youth, the Coalition plans to include messages from legislators, providers, and other stakeholders to emphasize the importance of addressing the issue.
This video will be used to educate legislators, the community, and other stakeholders about the importance of increasing access to housing and support services for unaccompanied youth experiencing homelessness. Most importantly, the video project gives unaccompanied youth and their allies a way to tell their stories and educate the Commonwealth about their experiences.
The 2011 Annual Meeting of the Massachusetts Conference approved a Resolution to End Homelessness among Youth and Young Adults in Massachusetts last June. That resolution called on churches to actively engage this issue.
Linda Bessom, SND, is the Senior Community Organizer for the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless. She represents the Coalition on the MACUCC's Task Force to End Homelessness.