Massachusetts State Representative - 34th Middlesex District

Resolution to end unaccompanied youth homelessness

The Somerville News
by Andrew Firestone

Sponsored by Alderman Rebekah Gewirtz, unanimously passes Somerville Board of Aldermen

At their meeting on Thursday, March 22, the Somerville Board of Aldermen unanimously passed a resolution offered by Ward 6 Alderman Rebekah Gewirtz in support of state legislation pertaining to supporting unaccompanied youth experiencing homelessness. Aldermen Maryann Heuston, Tony Lafuente, William Roche, Thomas Taylor, and Dennis Sullivan co-sponsored the resolution.

The resolution expresses the City's official support for House Bill 3838, An Act Providing Housing and Support Services for Unaccompanied Homeless Youth. The legislation was filed by State Representative Jim O'Day of West Boylston, and is co-sponsored by State Representative Carl Sciortino, whose district includes a portion of Somerville.

Kelly Turley, Somerville resident and Director of Legislative Advocacy at the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless, the lead advocacy group behind the bill, says: "Unaccompanied youth homelessness occurs across Massachusetts and affects rural, urban, and suburban areas alike. Somerville in particular has a number of unaccompanied youth experiencing homelessness. These youth are incredibly vulnerable, given their young age and desperate circumstances. Right now, there are simply not enough housing or shelter options to meet the growing needs of this population, and we must work collectively to change that. The unanimous approval of this resolution shows the City of Somerville's commitment to helping young people in terrible situations."

An "unaccompanied homeless youth" is a youth aged 22 or under who is without shelter and not in the care of a parent or guardian. Nearly 6,000 Massachusetts high school students are considered unaccompanied homeless youth. Thousands of other youth are not reflected in these numbers, as they have already dropped out and cannot be accounted for by school systems. In 2011, Bridge Over Troubled Waters, an organization that serves unaccompanied youth in the Greater Boston area, provided services to 2,600 youth in need of medical care, shelter, day programs, and more.

Alderman Rebekah Gewirtz says: "I am honored to sponsor this resolution in support of House Bill 3838. Unaccompanied youth are some of the most vulnerable, at-risk people in our society and we must work together to find real solutions to this devastating problem. My colleagues on the Board of Aldermen and I are committed to doing all we can to help unaccompanied youth in Somerville and across the Commonwealth."

Unaccompanied youth homelessness occurs for many reasons. Some youth find themselves abandoned by their families after coming out as part of the LGBT community, announcing a pregnancy, or making a life choice their parents do not condone. Other youth run away to avoid an unbearable home situation, such as abuse or an unstable parent; still others find that they are homeless and on their own after aging out of foster care or other state-run programs. Representative Carl Sciortino, co-sponsor of H.B. 3838, says: "I am a co-sponsor of this bill because we have kids who for a variety of unfortunate reasons end up living on the streets in need of basic care and support. I appreciate the Board of Aldermen's support of this important legislation, and look forward to the bill's passage."

H.B. 3838 is currently before the Massachusetts House of Representatives Committee on Ways and Means.

(press release from MA Coalition for the Homeless)