Updated May 11, 2017
By Niya Kelly, Policy Specialist
Homeless youth face unique barriers to securing safe housing and services. Because of their age and circumstances, services are often limited.
The Homeless Youth Committee, Law Project, and public policy department at the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless are collaborating with advocates statewide to introduce legislation that would provide homeless youth the opportunity to further their education, housing options, and access to counseling services.
State Rep. Letisa Wallace (D- Rockford) sponsors the three House bills. All three bills have been voted out of the House, and are awaiting May votes in the Senate.
Currently, homeless minors are only permitted to stay in a youth transitional housing program for 21 days before they must return home, move in with a relative, or go into the care of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). Often, youth cycle through their 21 days, leave for a few days, and ultimately return to the program.
This legislation establishes a pathway for 16- and 17-year-old minors to find stable housing. They would be permitted to consent to their own housing and services with a DCFS-licensed youth transitional housing program when parental consent cannot be obtained. CCH worked extensively with homeless youth service providers, Illinois Collaboration on Youth, and state agencies in drafting this legislation. Sponsors are Rep. Wallace and State Sen. Donne Trotter (D-Chicago).
HB3211 – Food Insecurity on College Campuses
Forty-eight percent of college students report experiencing food insecurity and 22% report having to skip meals in a recent national survey. Increased hunger on college campuses is associated with the rising cost of higher education, scarce financial aid, and the rapidly changing face of the traditional college student. Hunger has become a pressing issue in Illinois, especially among students at community colleges.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) can reduce food insecurity but, as a rule, students attending college half-time or more are ineligible. This legislation would provide students enrolled in vocational-track programs the opportunity to further their education while having food security. This legislation would establish a process by which the Illinois Student Assistance Commission identifies and notifies college and university students that they may be eligible for SNAP. CCH advocates for this measure with the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law and Heartland Alliance for Human Needs & Human Rights. Sponsors are Rep. Wallace and Sen. Julie Morrison (D-Deerfield).
HB3709 – Increasing Access to Counseling Services
Youth can struggle with discussing their problems with parents or guardians. For this reason, Illinois law allows minors over age 12 to consent to counseling on their own. However, young people are limited to only five visits, too few for youth that may not be ready to talk to their parents about personal struggles.
HB3709 would increase the allotted number of sessions from five to eight. For minors unable to get parental consent, due to homelessness or possible dangers in getting parental consent, a counselor would be allowed to continue services after eight sessions.
Said Dr. Niranjan S. Karnik, a leading psychiatrist at Rush University Medical Center, “Providers are in a good position to help heal families by working with youth who are running away, homeless or otherwise estranged. This legislation expands the possibility for youth to seek help from licensed providers, get short-term support, and it often leads to reunification with their families.”
Increasing the number of counseling visits would give youth the opportunity to build rapport with a counselor, giving youth a safe space to begin healing. Sponsors are Rep. Wallace and Sen. Kimberly Lightford (D-Westchester).
Other legislation: HB3060, no-charge birth certificates
CCH also proposed and supports a bill, House Bill 3060, that would provide birth certificates free of charge to people who are homeless. Birth certificates are needed to apply for state ID cards, which are required to apply for many programs. Many counties, including Cook, charge $15 for a certified birth certificate. Sponsored by Rep. Will Guzzardi (D-Chicago) and Sen. Iris Martinez (D-Chicago), HB3060 is under consideration in the Senate, after passing the House 93-12 on March 15.
Many of the 38 youth-serving agencies on CCH’s Homeless Youth Committee endorse these statewide measures. Twenty-five member agencies are located in Chicago, 13 in the suburbs and downstate.