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Report Back from the Select Committee on Homelessness Hearing in San Francisco

October 9, 2012

Last Thursday in San Francisco Assemblymember Toni Atkins’ Select Committee on Homelessness held their sixth hearing, which focused on youth. A panel of experts was invited to provide testimony on housing, social, legal and health care barriers for homeless youth, LGBT[i] youth and transitioning foster youth. Chairwoman Atkins was joined by Assemblymembers Tom Ammiano, Mariko Yamada, Norma Torres and Mark Leno, and an audience of 40-50 community members. Committee members and those who testified celebrated recent victories in the legislature for homeless youth such as AB 1856 (Ammiano) on LGBT awareness for foster care providers, SB 1172 (Lieu) on banning sexual orientation change efforts, and SB 1133 (Leno) on the prosecution of human traffickers, and acknowledged the significant work still needing to be done. Committee members seemed inspired and motivated by recommendations made by those who testified, which covered a broad range of innovative yet common sense proposals for policy and practice.

Ophelia Basgal, a regional administrator for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development discussed a 2012 report, Housing for Youth Aging Out of Foster Care, and Matthew Doherty of the State Interagency of Homelessness reviewed the 2012 amendment to Opening Doors, the nation’s first strategic plan to end homelessness. The 2012 amendment was developed to specifically address what strategies and supports should be implemented to achieve the plan’s original goal to “prevent and end homelessness for families, youth and children by 2020.” Shahera Hyatt of the California Homeless Youth Project shared the latest draft of More Than Just a Roof: California State Action Plan to End Youth Homelessness, a report requested by Senator Carol Lieu being officially released in November.

Sherilyn Adams of Larkin Street Youth Services and Sparky Harlan of Bill Wilson Center presented perspectives of local seasoned homeless youth providers, articulated current obstacles that remain for serving this population and strategies for addressing them. Adams shared with the Committee that of Larkin’s 352 beds for the San Francisco homeless youth population, 22 are dedicated for LGBTQQ[ii] youth, and that 50% of youth that access services at Larkin come from outside California. This spoke to the “sanctuary”, as put by Assemblymember Ammiano that is San Francisco for LGBTQQ youth fleeing unsafe home environments from across the county. Sparky Harlan spoke to a range of issues, including how the wide use of cell phones by youth is contributing to an undercounting of homeless youth, and how challenging it can be to access basic health care for youth who are still tied to their parents’ health care plans but not in contact with their family. The Committee also heard from former San Francisco City Supervisor Bevan Dufty, now the director of Housing Opportunity, Partnership and Engagement (HOPE), who discussed housing barriers for homeless youth and challenges with the court and juvenile systems.

John Burton Foundation policy director Amy Lemley touched on the importance of access to Supplemental Security Income (SSI) for former foster youth with disabilities. She discussed AB 1331 (Evans), a policy that five years into implementation, Lemley reported is working for youth exiting foster care. AB 1331 requires counties to screen all youth in foster care for a disability and to submit an application for SSI as necessary. Read more about this in a 2010 report. Lemley acknowledged that while AB 1331 is making progress with former foster youth, there is still work to be done for other populations such as youth exiting juvenile probation. “Are we doing what we can to bring this entitlement into the homeless community?” asked Lemley. She also discussed the extension of foster care to age 21 (as made available by AB 12) and the expansion of the Transitional Housing Placement-Plus (THP-Plus) Program, identifying both as effective strategies to combat youth homelessness amongst current and former foster youth.

Lastly, Lemley shared her concerns about the 2011 Realignment of Child Welfare Services. She questioned whether the amount of money being provided to counties under realignment is adequate in drawing down the necessary federal funding to provide services for abused and neglected children and youth. Lemley left the Committee with an important consideration – “Less kids in care does not always mean progress”. She was referring to the implicit message that the shrinkage of the federal welfare case load means fewer children are being abused and neglected.

Twelve people testified during the public testimony session, half of which were youth. These community members brought important and challenging points to the Committee, including the importance of bringing activists to the table when trying to make change in a community; the strong need to bring the voices of African Americans to the table, who comprise a disproportionately high percentage of the homeless youth population; and the challenges undocumented mothers and their children face in accessing public housing. During public testimony in response to the recommendation that California adopt a bill of rights for homeless persons as Rhode Island has, Assemblymember Ammiano shared that he will be introducing a bill in January that would call for just this.

The youth who testified were members of the Santa Clara and Los Angeles chapters of the California Youth Connection. Some of them travelled a significant distance to describe their past and current struggles with accessing housing and brought a very real and sobering perspective to the table. One young man, Darnell Johnson, about to celebrate his “first anniversary”, as he put it, to having safe and affordable housing, provided an appropriate closing to the hearing – “It’s a long road ahead of us, but it’s definitely worth the journey.”

 


 

[i] LGBT refers to individuals who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender

[ii] LGBTQQ refers to individuals who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning

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