Update from the Public Hearing on Unaccompanied Homeless Youth Bill #135


7/18/2013

Public Hearing Testimony

by Georgeanne Bennett, Worcester Fellowship and Task Team to End Homelessness 

Good morning. My name is Georgeanne Bennett. I am one of the co-pastors of Worcester Fellowship, an outdoor church that meets on Sundays on Worcester Common in any and all weather. I am also here representing the Task Team to End Homelessness, which operates under the umbrella of the Mass. Conference of the United Church of Christ, with members who come from the UCC as well as other churches and with close ties, thanks to Sr. Linda Bessom, to the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless.

All of us on the task team are concerned with the rising number of young people we see and work with.  On Sundays in Worcester, before the worship service, we serve lunch, up to 150 people these days.  It used to be rare that we saw young folks, now they probably represent something like 15% of those in the lunch line. When we talk to them, we find that they are couch-surfing with friends, moving from one place to another as they wear out their welcomes.  Or, especially now, in the summer, they are just sleeping outside.  Usually not in organized camps like the seasoned outdoor sleepers we know, but just randomly on benches and bus shelters, or under the overpasses. 

There are lots of reasons they are not in settled homes.  Some are “throw-away” kids, many have drug issues.  Something like 40% are LGBTQ youth whose families have rejected them.  But these are beautiful kids; God’s beloved children at the very least and there are not enough services for them.  They don’t want to go into the adult shelters; they’ve heard the stories, they know they are likely to be preyed upon there.  As they are preyed upon in the streets; many are regularly beaten up and robbed.  The girls, especially, but sometimes the boys as well, are at extremely high risk of being raped.  And sometimes that’s the price they pay for having a place to sleep.  I have no idea what I would be willing to do in order NOT to sleep on a bench.  I doubt many of us do…

I also volunteer a couple of night a month as the sleepover person at a wonderful small women’s shelter in Worcester, Abby’s House.  Last month I met “Rose” there.  Not her real name, of course.  Rose is 19.  She was a heroin addict for two years and kicked it.  On her own.  But then she had nowhere to go.  She slept outside for some time on benches in a park that is known as Crystal Park in honor of the fact that it is well-known for the crystal meth trade that goes on there.  Rose was lucky.  She was propositioned pretty much nightly, she was robbed a couple of times but she was also protected somewhat by a cop who talked to her and told her which benches were safer and drove by multiple times a night.  I imagine the word got out.  She was also lucky in that someone told her about Abby’s.  Now Abby’s always runs a waiting list, but on the day Rose turned up, they hadn’t been able to find the women on the waiting list, so a bed was open. 

I did the intake on Rose and I saw her lovingly arranging her few things on the nightstand by her bed.  And I saw her the next morning after her first real night’s sleep in I-don’t-know-how-long.  Rose is much safer now than she was.  But there are so many other kids out there.  I, and the other members of the Task Team, ask for your support on House Bill 135.  Let’s get the resources we need in place to support these beautiful children.

On July 16th the Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities held a public hearing on House Bill 135, "An Act Providing Housing and Support Services for Unaccompanied Homeless Youth.” Ms.  Georgeanne Bennett, of the MACUCC Task Team to End Homelessness gave testimony in support of this bill in light of the 2011 "Resolution to End Homelessness among Youth and Young Adults in Massachusetts."  Read her testimony at right.

Currently, across Massachusetts public schools, there are approximately 6,000 unaccompanied homeless youth and young adults 24 years and younger who have no parent, or legal guardian, as well as no fixed place of residence – homeless and on their own! This number does not even count the youth who have dropped out of school or who have graduated from high school and still remain on their own. Many of these young adults have fled biological and foster care homes due to neglect and abuse. Once on their own, without a plan, these young people are flung into a chaotic world of survival, putting their lives at greater risks that could eventually claim their lives and at best would put themselves in very risky situations. 

There are very few supportive services and adequate housing for this vulnerable population throughout the state.

This has to change. Fortunately, change is under way with House Bill #135 which would create social services for these youth, building on the work of the state’s Special Commission on Unaccompanied Homeless Youth which issued their first legislative Report back in June 2013. Read this report here.

Before July 22, raise your voice for youth experiencing homelessness. For details on ways you can take action, click here.

The 600 postcards at Annual Meeting sent to the Joint Conference Committee members made a difference!!

During Rev. Liz Magill and Sister Linda Bessom’s report at Annual Meeting on the accomplishments and progress of the 2011 Resolution to End Homelessness among Youth and Young Adults in Massachusetts, as members of the Task Force to End Homelessness, we invited participants to fill out the post card addressed to Senator Stephen Brewer and Representative Brian Dempsey and members of the Joint Conference Committee on the Budget to: “adopt the House’s earmark Line Item 4000-0300 to support resources for unaccompanied youth who are experiencing homelessness. The House Budget included language and funding to add $150,000 to the Executive Office of Health and Human Services administrative line Item.”

Many of the delegates came by the Task Force’s table to take extra post cards back to their congregants to sign and then send immediately in the mail. I would estimate that 600 postcards were sent from all areas of the state. At least 400 were hand delivered at the State House on the following Monday, June 17th.   

New funding for unaccompanied homeless youth is now included in the state budget for the first time! Congratulations! The 600 postcards at Annual Meeting, sent to the Joint Conference Committee members, made a difference!

Click here to learn more about how you can keep the momentum going!

 

Submitted by Sr. Linda Bessom SND

Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless

781-595-7570 x 18, linda@mahomeless.org



 

 



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