Homeless youth bill may improve rural school services

Homeless youth bill may improve rural school services

(Calif.) A bill aimed at reducing poverty among all children in California may also present an opportunity for rural schools to offer more programs and resources for homeless students.

Senate Bill 918–known as the Homeless Youth Act of 2018–will, among other things, provide additional grant money available for agencies helping homeless youth, and prioritize those in geographic areas where no similar services are being provided.

In rural areas especially, schools often act as the central location where community needs are provided–particularly as many have begun to offer or expand mental and physical health services, food pantries and other resources for low-income, foster and homeless youth.

For some communities, schools are the only location within many miles that offer such services, which puts them in a unique position to help a significant number of families.

“The rise of youth homelessness in California–especially amongst those who have been in the foster care system–is simply unacceptable,” Daniel Lurie, CEO and founder of the non-profit anti-poverty organization Tipping Point Community, said in a statement.

Tipping Point Community, as well as the California Coalition for Youth, Equality California, Housing California and California Policy for Corporation of Supportive Housing, are all co-sponsors of the bill.

The University of Chicago reports that one in 10 young adults between the ages of 18 and 25, and one in 30 adolescents between the age of 13 and 17, experience some form of homelessness each year in the United States. That is equivalent to about 3.5 million 18-25 year-olds and 700,000 13-17 year olds. 

Preliminary 2017 federal data shows the number of homeless youth in California has increased to over 15,000–a 26 percent increase from 2016, and a 32 percent increase from 2015.

About 38 percent of the nation’s homeless youth reside in California, according to Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, one of the authors of SB 918. Last year, there were more than 15,000 unaccompanied homeless youth ages 12 to 24 in California who were living in cars, parks, abandoned buildings, bus or train stations, on the street, or couch surfing with friends or family.

 An analysis of biennial statewide homeless counts published late last year by the San Francisco Chronical shows homelessness has spiked in rural communities, largely due to the drastic increases in housing costs in nearby cities pushing families outward toward less expensive regions.

The paper found that the number of people without homes in El Dorado County jumped 122 percent from 2015 to 2017, and the farmlands of Butte County saw a 76 percent increase. And in many of those communities, there are few to no existing services for homeless families or youth.

According to Wiener’s office, only 20 of state’s 58 counties had direct services for homeless youth. He said that in addition to inadequate state investments to support services for homeless youth, policy and funding are scattered across various state agencies and departments.

SB 918 would establish a central agency within the Department of Housing and Community Development–the Office of Homeless Youth–to setting specific, measurable goals aimed at preventing and ending homelessness among youth in the state.

The office would be required to identify funding, policy, and practice gaps across state systems that serve, or hold the potential to serve, young people experiencing homelessness. The office would develop specific recommendations and timelines for addressing these gaps, and report to the Legislature.

The new office would also oversee and administer specified grant programs for homeless young people and their families, which would be funded by money provided to the State Department of Health Care Services from the Youth Education, Prevention, Early Intervention, and Treatment Account. Under SB 918, grant funds would be used to supplement existing levels of service and not to supplant any existing funding.

Lastly, the bill would direct $60 million in funding to help further support programs addressing the needs of homeless youth.

Preference for grants would be given to agencies that propose to provide services in geographic areas where no similar services are provided, and where there is a demonstrated need for those services. Those services could include drug abuse prevention, mental and physical health care, transitional living services, education and employment assistance, and family support.

For schools in rural areas looking to expand programs that aid homeless students and their families, or those hoping to implement new ones, new money proposed by SB 918 could mean hiring an additional nurse or psychologist to work with homeless students, or even providing resources that allow school personnel to help students and their families find work and affordable housing.