Online Extra: Political Notes: Bill aims to help CA homeless youth
by Matthew S. Bajko
A bill backed by gay state Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) aims to help homeless youth in California access services to keep them off the streets and out of the criminal justice system.
Under the legislation, AB 2001, homeless youth would be added to the purview of the Juvenile Dependency Court. Judges would have the authority to make a determination that an unaccompanied minor is chronically homeless as a result of parental abuse or neglect.
Existing law provides that a child may come under the jurisdiction of the juvenile court and become a dependent of the court in certain cases, including when the child is abused; a parent or guardian fails to adequately supervise or protect the child, as specified; or a parent or guardian fails to provide the child with adequate food, clothing, shelter, or medical treatment.
By falling under the jurisdiction of the court, homeless youth would be eligible for federal funding that would follow him or her to a specialized homeless youth shelter or group home. The goal is for chronically homeless youth, while housed as such facilities, to receive independent living skills instruction.
"It's sad that our approach until now has focused on two paths that don't really help these kids," stated Ammiano in a release his office issued February 20. "Many are sent into a foster care system that doesn't understand the needs of teens who are homeless because they have been abused or rejected by their families. As well meaning as these programs are, homeless youth often don't find their needs met there. They run away, and as a result, lose access to funded services."
He added that, "Teens on the street often fall into a different system: juvenile justice. Once they get in there, it is difficult to escape being branded as criminals. We need a third path."
According to the California Homeless Youth Project, the state uses the term "homeless youth" to refer to unaccompanied minors ages 12 through 17 who are living apart from their parents or legal guardians and to young adults ages 18 through 24 "who are economically and/or emotionally detached from their families and are experiencing homelessness or living in unstable or inadequate living situations."
While the exact total of homeless youth in the state is unknown, state officials estimate that 200,000 youth under the age of 18, and thousands of 18-24 year olds, are homeless for one or more days during a year.
"We have heard from many of our member organizations across the state about unaccompanied minor homeless youth they are trying to help who do not qualify for services," stated California Coalition for Youth Executive Director Paul Curtis. "This bill will help change that."
In highlighting the legislation on his Facebook page, Ammiano noted that many of the state's homeless youth are LGBT. Often they end up in San Francisco based on the city's reputation of being a gay mecca but, when they arrive, struggle to find affordable housing.
According to the biennial San Francisco Homeless Point-In-Time Count and Survey released last June, of the 1,902 unaccompanied children and youth living on the city's streets roughly 29 percent identified as LGBTQ. The overwhelming majority was over the age of 18, nearly three quarters (72 percent) were male, and one-in-four had been in the foster care system.
"There are unmet needs and gaps in services for older teenagers who are out on the streets and on their own," stated Sherilyn Adams, executive director of Larkin Street Youth Services in San Francisco and board chair of the California Coalition for Youth. "Homeless teenagers often have similar histories of abuse and neglect as their peers in the foster care system but have often fallen through the cracks when referred to the child protection system for services."
By expanding the jurisdiction of the juvenile court to include homeless youth, Ammiano's bill would impose new duties on county child welfare service employees, thereby creating a state-mandated local program. To pay for the services intended by the legislation, the state would seek federal funding under Title IV-E of the federal Social Security Act.
Due to inadequate funding, many group homes and shelters providing services and support to chronically homeless youth currently have long waiting lists.
"What we want to do is simplify the process so that youth get the services they need and so that providers are adequately funded," stated Ammiano. "In reality, we know that homelessness is a complex problem that won't be solved overnight, but this is an important step to help the most vulnerable among our homeless."
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