Representative O’Day Aids Unaccompanied Homeless Youth with the Passage of Fiscal Year 2013 State Budget

Representative O’Day Aids Unaccompanied Homeless Youth with the Passage of Fiscal Year 2013 State Budget

 

 (Boston)- Governor Deval Patrick signed the Fiscal Year 2013 State Budget into law on Sunday. This budget incorporated language originally filed by Representative James J. O’Day of West Boylston to assist Unaccompanied Homeless Youth.  The signature of the Governor marks a significant victory for Representative O’Day, who has been advocating for unaccompanied homeless youth (defined as youth between the ages of 14-22 not accompanied by a parent or legal guardian) since filing the original legislation in January, 2011.

 

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education estimates that nearly 6,000 high school students are homeless and on their own.  Thousands more of homeless youth are not reflected in these numbers as they have already dropped out of school. There is a desperate need for increased shelter and housing options for unaccompanied youth.  The language employed in the FY 2013 budget establishes a commission that will bring together the state’s top experts on youth homelessness issues, helping to identify solutions for the growing and pervasive problem.  Concerning the problem of unaccompanied homeless youth, Representative O’Day commented, “It is unconscionable that young people are left to fend for themselves, without shelter or caregivers.  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.  I am incredibly encouraged that the House of Representatives, under the leadership of Speaker DeLeo and House Ways and Means Chair Brian Dempsey, the Senate, under the leadership of Senate President Therese Murray and Senate Ways and Means Chair Stephen Brewer, and Governor Deval Patrick have recognized this problem and have taken steps to remedy it.”

 

Homelessness advocates, like Kelly Turley, Director of Legislative Advocacy at the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless, are encouraged by the news. “Unaccompanied youth homelessness occurs across Massachusetts, affecting rural, urban, and suburban areas alike. These young people are incredibly vulnerable, given their age and desperate circumstances. Right now, there are simply not enough housing or shelter options to meet the growing needs of teens and young adults. Through the creation of this new special commission, a wide range of stakeholders from across the Commonwealth, for the first time, will work collectively to ensure safe, stable housing and access to necessary supports and services for unaccompanied youth experiencing homelessness” said Ms. Turley.

 

The commission will be made up of the state’s foremost experts on the issue of unaccompanied homeless youth.  The commission will form a study and make recommendations by March 31, 2013. The group will focus on improving access to housing and services for unaccompanied youth, with the goal of ensuring a comprehensive and effective response to the unique needs of this group as a whole and for sub-populations, including youth who identify as LGBT and those under the age of 18.  Dr. JudyAnn Bigby, Secretary of the Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services, will chair the commission. The commission's membership will consist of representatives from key executive branch offices and departments, such as the Department of Children and Families, Department of Transitional Assistance and Department of

Housing and Community Development, along with two State Representatives, two State Senators, three youth who have experienced homelessness, and multiple providers and advocates from around the state who are working on youth homelessness issues.

 

‘I am anxious for the commission to identify tangible ways in which we as a Commonwealth can address the growing population of unaccompanied homeless youth.  Being homeless as a teen negatively affects everything from school performance, to health outcomes and self esteem.  Addressing this problem will give thousands of young people across Massachusetts a greater chance at success,” said Representative James O’Day.  “It is my hope that after the commission makes its recommendations we can take the next step in the upcoming session towards obtaining solid funding for support services regarding this vulnerable population.”

 

Language to establish a commission to aide unaccompanied homeless youth was included in a consolidated amendment relating to Health and Human Services.  The language was first included in the House version of the budget, passed in April of this year.  With the help of Senator Katherine Clark (D) Melrose and Senator Harriette Chandler (D) Worcester, the language to assist homeless youth was included in the Senate version of the budget as well, passed in May of this year.  With the Governor's signature of the Fiscal Year 2013 Budget on Sunday, this legislation passed its final hurdle and has now been signed into law.