Pride Highlights Issue on Homeless Youth

This year, Pride meant a lot more than outrageous costumes, late night clubbing and activist signs. The Supreme Court decisions on Prop 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) have been pushed back to Monday as much of the nation awaits to hear the final ruling by the high court. The latter an initiative catalyzed by Massachusetts’ own Attorney General Coakley when her office filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Section 3 of DOMA, the section that defines the terms “marriage” as “a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife.” Other major initiatives being celebrated or advocated for include policies focused on homeless youth in Massachusetts and in Boston.

H.B. 1862, The Unaccompanied Homeless Youth Act, championed by Representatives James O’Day and Kay Khan, passed by both houses of the state legislature last year. It was signed by Governor Deval Patrick. The bill establishes a special commission to study the barriers to accessing services for homeless youth under 18 years of age and for young adults ages 18 to 22. The commission will make recommendations to the legislature on service and housing solutions to better serve youth and young adults in the Commonwealth. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education estimated nearly 6,000 high school students had experienced homelessness in 2012. Thousands of other adults were not included in these numbers because they are above high school age or have dropped out of school. Improved housing options are imperative to sheltering these teens and young adults who are out on the streets.

House Bill 135, or the Youth Homelessness Bill, would provide housing and support services to unaccompanied homeless youth. The bill, filed by Representatives Jim O’Day and Senator Katherine Clark, has 66 co-sponsors, which seeks to reduce youth homelessness by funding housing and support services begun in the Fiscal year 2013 budget that established H.B 1862. It will also improve educational and mental health support for youth to 24 year old homeless.

Carly Burton, Deputy Director Mass Equality, said, “We had a major success with the budget for the Unaccompanied Homeless Youth. Up to 40% of LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer] youth are homeless. We do a lot of work with Mass Coalition for the Homeless, Bridge Over Troubled Water, Youth on Fire and Boston Glass. We also work with Hispanic LGBT homeless youth by connection with Chelsea Collaborative and other Hispanic advocacy groups- not just for the homeless, but also for economic justice issues and immigration.”

Jeff Ross, a candidate for Boston City Council At-Large, connects with this issue on a personal level. “I’m running because when I was younger, I was bullied as an LGBT youth, and I’m running to empower diverse. I was a homeless LGBT youth for a brief period of time, and I want to make sure we have the wrap upon services and support because we need to make sure the youth are the future of our city, and we need to provide stability opportunities and accesses to education and healthcare, and anything LGBT youth need to succeed,” he said.

The City of Boston is the recipient of nearly $20 million annually from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (DHUD) to provide services and emergency housing for the homeless.

City Councilor At-Large Felix Arroyo, who is running for mayor, addressed the issue of homeless housing when approached by SPARE CHANGE NEWS.
“As mayor of Boston, I’d be an intentional leader to make sure that all Bostonians understand, and I think a lot of them do- that this is a city that should work for everybody. On homelessness, and LGBT homeless youth — making affordable housing exists and shelters for emergency don’t discriminate is important.”

Nationally, a study by the Los Angeles School of Law at University of California found that almost 7 in 10 (68 percent) of LGBTQ homeless youth who have received assistance services had experienced family rejection and more than half (58 percent) had experienced abuse in their families. In Massachusetts, a report released by the Unaccompanied Homeless Youth Commission (UHYC) cited that 40 percent of unaccompanied homeless youth are LGBTQ. A public hearing on the Youth Homelessness Bill will begin to address this on July 16.

–Sarah Betancourt

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