“Without this document, homeless youth face insurmountable hurtles,” said Scott at a Homeless Youth Forum, presented by The Homeless Coalition of Hillsborough County at the Straz Center.
The bill originated in a U.S. Government class at Armwood High School, as part of a county-wide program called “There Ought to be a Law”, where high school students draft and pitch legislative bills. According to the Tampa Bay Times, the class was inspired by the plight of a fellow Armwood student.
The bill will give certified homeless minors who are at least 16 years old the ability to petition the circuit court to have their disabilities of nonage removed. Disabilities of nonage currently prevent minors from accessing vital legal records, such as a copy of their birth certificate. The bill will allow minors who are “unaccompanied,” or not underneath the physical custody of a guardian, to get their nonage disabilities lifted so that they may obtain the documents they may need for housing or a job. The new bill will also expedite the process for unaccompanied youths and waive their court fees.
A Homeless youth, defined under federal law as”Individuals who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence”. Under the new bill, homeless minors and youths can become ‘certified’ by school homeless liaisons, or by directors of federally funded homeless and transitional shelters.
Kathy Wiggins, Outreach Coordinator for Camelot Community Care, told CL that the bill is a huge start to addressing the problems faced by unaccompanied youths and minors. In addition to being kicked out of their house or put out by a bad family situation, their problems are often compounded in access to the birth certificates needed to obtain State identification or Drivers’ Licenses.
Kami George said that the bill will definitely helps kids like her. George lived with her aunt, who she described as abusive, and her 7 children before she was thrown out at age 17. Having been adopted and from North Carolina, she did not have the identification needed to get a job to support herself. George said it took over a year and a half to get all the documents she needed.
“It is terribly hard with all the signatures and everything, and this bill will really help,” said George.
After running out of places to stay last year, George got help from the Lazydays Center for Youth Development, a collaborative effort by homeless organizations for unaccompanied youth. Now 19, George lives with a host family and says she is doing great.
Hillsborough County Schools has identified 3500 homeless children in their schools, 180 of them are teenaged minors.
Ken Kavanagh, a nurse certified in adolescent health and psychiatry, said at the forum that homeless youth generally suffer from a multitude of health issues, such as malnutrition or obesity, preventable infectious diseases and depression at much higher rates then their peers. Kavanaugh said health care facilities often have policies that prevent minors from signing off on their own treatment, and lack of documents further impedes access to adequate care.
The bill, introduced in the House by Rich Glorioso, R-Plant City, will become effective July 1.