Legal Services for Youth Experiencing Homelessness

Enhancing Access to Legal Services and Developing Strategies for to Build Comprehensive Systems

On October 24, 2016, Mary Owns with the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness blogged about “Exchanging Access to Legal Services for Youth Experiencing Homelessness.”

The blog post highlights the legal services needs of homeless youth that often go overlooked. “Unaddressed, this can have an adverse impact on a youth’s ability to access or maintain housing stability, employment and income supports, healthcare, and other mainstream services.”

At the end of September, the American Bar Association’s (ABA) Commission on Homelessness and Poverty and HHS’ Family & Youth Services Bureau (FYSB) convened the Homeless Youth Law & Policy Summit to discuss the legal issues that impact young people experiencing homelessness.

The summit included expert panels that included young people who have been homeless.

Key issues that were identified included:

  • Status Offenses
  • Identification
  • Custody and Placement
  • Public Benefits
  • Housing
  • Identify Theft
  • Collateral consequences of justice system involvement – “All minors are entitled to court-appointed counsel in delinquency proceedings, but may also need help paying associated fees necessary to complete a diversion program and get their record expunged.”
  • Education

One response is that the ABA Commission has committed to funding the development and implementation of the national Homeless Youth Legal Network (HYLN.)

The goals of the HYLN are:

  • Develop a system of accessible and integrated services that address the legal needs of youth experiencing homelessness;
  • Educate the private bar on the complex needs of youth and the legal barriers to receiving public benefits, education, employment, housing, treatment, and other services, as well as to raise awareness of the critical ways attorneys can assist this population;
  • Engage and equip individual attorneys and law firms to provide pro bono legal services;
  • Sustain a coalition of lawyers and advocates to foster collaboration and support to implement best practices in partnership with federal agencies and national advocacy organizations; and
  • Provide youth experiencing homelessness and youth transitioning to adulthood from the child welfare or juvenile justice systems with job training, employment, and career-related resources.

As follow up to the Summit, the USICH in partnership with the Department of Justice, “Release guidance in the coming months on the effectiveness of using legal services for individuals experiencing homelessness who are seeking to obtain housing and gain access to essential supportive services. The legal services brief will also provide key strategies for communities on how to use legal services to remove systematic barriers to housing.”

This Summit is especially timely given that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) plans to use the 2017 point in time count of the homeless as a baseline to get a more accurate count nationally of homeless youth.

Exchanging Access to Legal Services for Youth Experiencing Homelessness

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