Interested in policy supporting homeless youths? ABA group provides guidance

Richard Hooks Wayman was a senior youth policy analyst at the National Alliance to End Homelessness in the mid-2000s when he became involved with the ABA Commission on Homelessness and Poverty.

Hooks Wayman spent most of his earlier career focusing on youth homelessness issues—which included authoring Minnesota’s first Runaway and Homeless Youth Act—and was drawn to the commission’s new initiative to draft model state laws to address the needs of homeless youths. Up until that time, he says state policymakers rarely considered them.

“Commission members [and volunteers] are geographically dispersed around the United States, and all of us had been experiencing that the world of homeless youth advocacy in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s had been focused on federal resources and federal policy,” says Hooks Wayman, now the president and CEO of Volunteers of America Northern New England. “But how homeless youth look in Los Angeles is very different than how they look in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, right? What we began to realize is there are lots of opportunities for advocacy to create great policy that fits the local, contextual issues.”

In 2009, the Commission on Homelessness and Poverty and the National Network for Youth published Runaway and Homeless Youth and the Law: Model State Statutes. This free, first-of-its-kind resource was drafted, reviewed and edited by attorneys and youth advocates and featured model legislation related to access to education, health care and legal services, among other areas.

How can advocates help homeless youths?

In October, the Commission on Homelessness and Poverty released Model State Statutes: Youth and Young Adult Homelessness, the culmination of a two-year initiative that again involved the National Network for Youth as well as additional national and local partners and numerous youths who have experienced housing instability.

Their participation was vital, and according to the commission, one of the most important developments since the initial publication.

“What emerged from this second collaborative effort—and is reflected in the models—is a foundational understanding and acknowledgement that youth are best served by having the agency to exercise rights on their own behalf,” Jayesh Patel, its then chair, wrote in the new edition.

Casey Trupin is the director of housing stability for youth at the Raikes Foundation, a Seattle-based nonprofit that supports organizations focusing on youths and young adult homelessness, among other areas. He is also a past chair of the Commission on Homelessness and Poverty and worked on both publications. From his perspective, more advocates are asking for guidance on youth homelessness now than 15 years ago.

“There is more understanding that this issue cuts across a lot of silos in terms of youth issues,” says Trupin, a special adviser to the commission. “And, I would say, the understanding that preventing youth homelessness means engaging with a lot of other systems—school, justice, child welfare, behavioral health—is increasing.”

Trupin adds that the latest recommendations were informed by more comprehensive data on homeless youths as well as state laws that have gone into effect since 2009.


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