Homeless queer youth | the Massachusetts Special Commission

Can Massachusetts be a case study to improve the odds for homeless queer youth?

By Cathy Kristofferson, January 09, 2013.

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Creating Art To End Homelessness

The epidemic of homeless queer youth is an issue I’ve followed and advocated for because to me our youth are the most vulnerable among us.  They are empowered by our successes and are coming out younger and younger to families and schools and communities not always ready for them to far too often devastating results.  One of which is homelessness and the domino of consequences homelessness can set off.

Here in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts we have been trying to pass legislation – An Act Providing Housing and Support Services for Unaccompanied Homeless Youth, a.k.a The Unaccompanied Homeless Youth Act – with no success.  This upcoming legislative session will be the third attempt.  Previously H.1862 and H.3838 failed to even make it through the budget process, the second time despite being stripped of all funding.

Released in August 2012,  2011 data from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (ESE) estimated that there were 5,853 students in Massachusetts’ public high school who were experiencing homelessness and not in the custody of their parent or legal guardian.  So that likely means around 2,000 identify as LGBT using the 34% MA average.  We know that queer youth are forced to drop out at a rate of 50-60% so include those back in and it’s more like 3,000 queer homeless youth on the streets.

In 2011, the Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine at Boston’s Children’s Hospital conducted a study of that ESE data which found sexual-minority males and females reportedly had a likelihood of a 4 to 13 times greater chance of experiencing homelessness.  The author of the study, Dr. Heather Corliss, also noted:

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” …the primary concern of Massachusetts health care professionals was that discrimination and victimization related to sexual orientation or gender identity seemed to be following a pattern, that various other studies have documented — showing there are much higher risks based on familial maltreatment among LGBTQ individuals versus those suffered by heterosexual youths.”

The Special Commission on Youth Homelessness – the one little piece of legislation we managed to get signed into law with the FY ’13 budget – has finally held their first meeting last week after an almost 5 month delay.  The Commission is due to issue their findings in March 2013, as specified in the law, so the delay in getting going has been frustrating for those anxious to see results.

I am happy to be participating on the LGBT Working Group with goals set forth in the legislation of 1) identifying the barriers to serving unaccompanied youth who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer, and 2) to consider under and over age 18 separately including recommendations to extend the time for certain categories of mandated reports to file reports and establish special licensure provisions to allow service providers to serve homeless youth under age 18 years.

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The barriers that exist to serving these youth are somewhat common across the country, but one Massachusetts specific law requires that under 18 youth to be reported to authorities within 72 hours.  This mandatory reporting further criminalizes youth who are already facing too many challenges.  It also handcuffs service providers trying to do what is best for these youth, which is seldom the ‘family reunification’ model the Division of Children and Families has championed.  Family reunification was also championed by our own Senator Kerry last year in his Reconnecting Youth to Prevent Homelessness Act.

Re-educating rejecting parents is a worthy endeavor but I wonder with all the cries for increased shelter and housing options for queer youth if the federal government’s response will actually help with the immediate needs that exist.  The perceived threat of forcing youth to return to the scene of verbal and physical violence often only succeeds at keeping them from seeking help.

In 2009 NYC Mayor Bloomberg also created a commission to study the homeless youth problem but in the years following has done little to implement the changes recommended and actually has multiple times cut and threatened to further reduce the insufficient services provided.  Let’s hope Massachusetts doesn’t follow suit.

The MA Homeless Coalition created the Unaccompanied Youth Video Project in 2012 to gather the voices and stories of youth who have experienced/are experiencing homelessness in order to engage the Commonwealth in better understanding their struggles and needs to promote last year’s proposed Bill.  It is of course all still relevant.

As we venture into 2013 towards the FY ’14 budget process, I will cover the Massachusetts Special Commission on Youth Homelessness and the results of its studies along with this year’s attempt at new legislation for Unaccompanied Homeless Youth here on this BLOG to see if Massachusetts can be a case study, model or guide for other states also grappling with this issue.

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Cathy Kristofferson is a queer rights activist living in central Massachusetts. She is a co-State Lead of GetEQUAL MA, a former board member of Join The Impact MA, and member of the Stop The Hate and Homophobia Coalition Springfield. Cathy is also a member of the Homeless Youth Task Force of the MA Coalition for the Homeless, and is a member of the LGBT Working Group of the Unaccompanied Homeless Youth Commission of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Contact: Cathy Kristofferson:
info@getequalma.org
Tweeting: @ge_ma_lead


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