07 March 2007

Runaway and Homeless Youth Act

A critical piece of Minnesota legislation will be the topic of the day—and frankly, I have been looking to write more on Minnesota-Twin Cities news and events.

House bill 537 (now in committee) is the “Runaway and Homeless Youth Act.” Actually, a similar statute was adopted last year—but wasn’t funded…..go figure! But this biennium, the bill would be funded for $8 million. And it would be money well-spent. This Act would finance a number of needed programs for homeless and runaway youth:
--street and community outreach
--drop-in centers
--emergency shelters
--supportive and transitional housing programs

I reiterate.....this is extremely important legislation! According to the 2003 "Homeless in Minnesota" survey conducted by the Wilder Research Center, there are over 22,000 runaway and homeless youth in the state. And figures from The Bridge shows that every night, there are more than 500 homeless youth in the state—most of them in the Twin Cities. Yet, there are only about 70 shelter beds in the metro area.

Just who are these young people who find themselves on the street? They are not losers, troublemakers, or misfits. They are kids with problems, and most of the time they simply don’t know what to do or where to turn. A supervisor at one emergency shelter said that they, “see youth and families from all backgrounds and walks of life, dealing with everything from common parent-teen conflicts, to abuse or neglect, to mental health issues or substance abuse.”

And many are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. A Wilder survey of youth served by District 202 found that over half had experienced discrimination or verbal abuse due to their sexual orientation—mostly at school or in another public place. Some even at home. In addition, 25% of all homeless youth report that they have engaged in survival sex to meet their basic needs.

To make this just a little more personal, here are several examples of youth who utilized the services of The Bridge:

--Bill and some of his friends get picked up by the police after curfew and taken down to the curfew center. One by one, each of his friend’s parents arrive to collect them, but his mom isn’t answering the phone. When she finally does, she’s drunk and announces that he can stay just where he is as far as she’s concerned. But he can’t. The curfew center’s not set up for that. The police bring him to The Bridge, where he arrives tired, angry, and afraid.

--Referred to The Bridge by a school counselor when he learns of her plan to commit suicide, Mary won’t let us contact her parents. “Please don’t call,” she says. “I can’t ever face them again.” From a deeply religious family, she’s an athlete, a straight-A student, with college and career all mapped out. But yesterday she discovered she was pregnant. She feels her life is over.

--A young man shows up at the door. He’s about 16, speaks only a few words of English, and looks like he’s been on the street for long time. He has no money, belongings, or identification. Unable to get a job or a place to live, he wants to find a way back to Mexico to return to his family.

--Grades just came out and Robert knows there’s going to be trouble at home. Sure enough, he and his father nearly come to blows. He’s been trying to do better in school, but he just can’t seem to concentrate. Now he’s grounded. “Forget this,” he thinks, as he heads out the door. “You go out that door, don’t even think of coming back!” his father shouts. A few days later, Robert shows up at The Bridge, wondering what to do next.

--A young woman arrives. Born as a boy and christened “Robert,” Margaret has always felt herself to be a girl. Now a teen, her parents have disowned her and she has fled the ridicule of her small town. She doesn’t want to live on the streets, but it seems like the only option.

We can do much better here in Minnesota—we must fully fund this bill. As the Star-Tribune wrote in a February editorial, “surely this bill will pass, for the alternative is ominous. It involves leaving runaway and homeless youth in the cold….” Actually, it will leave them both cold and on the streets and make them perfect candidates for long-term homelessness. Let's rescue them now while we can. Call, write, or email your state representative now!

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