Updated May 26, 2017
By Niya Kelly, Policy Specialist
Three statewide measures to help homeless and at-risk youth facing barriers to safe housing and services passed final votes in the Illinois Senate by May 26.
A legislative package CCH calls Three Steps Home, the bills will be forwarded to Gov. Bruce Rauner for his signature or veto.
Also, a bill to provide no-fee birth records to homeless youth and adults (House Bill 3060) faces a final concurrence vote in the House before it heads to the governor.
No-fee birth records was proposed by the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless and advocated by State Rep. Will Guzzardi (D-Chicago) and Cook County Clerk David Orr’s office. Cook County adopted a similar countywide measure April 12.
CCH Law Project, public policy department and its statewide Youth Committee worked with other advocates to introduce legislation that offers homeless and unaccompanied youth the opportunity to further their education, housing options, and access to counseling. Because of young age and vulnerable circumstances, services to these youth are often been limited.
HB3212 – Housing for Homeless Minors
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 State Rep. Litesa Wallace (D-Rockford) 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. HB3211 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. Litesa Wallace (D-Rockford) and Sen. Julie Morrison (D-Deerfield).
HB3709 – Increasing Access to Counseling Services
Youth sometimes struggle in 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 sessions, too few for youth that may not be ready to talk to their parents about some personal struggles.
HB3709 would increase the allotted number of sessions from five, 45-minute sessions to eight 90-minute sessions. 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. Consent would not be required for youth who reach age 17.
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. Litesa Wallace (D-Rockford) and Sen. Kimberly Lightford (D-Westchester).
Other legislation: HB3060, no-charge birth certificates
CCH also proposed and supported House Bill 3060. It would provide birth records free-of-charge to people who are homeless. An applicant’s homeless status must be verified by a service agency.
Birth certificates are needed to apply for state ID cards, which are required to apply for many programs. Most counties charge $15 for a certified birth certificate. Sponsored by Rep. Will Guzzardi (D-Chicago) and Sen. Iris Martinez (D-Chicago), passed the House by a 93-12 vote on March 15 and 57-0 in the Senate on May 25. It goes back to the House for a concurrence vote on a minor amendment.
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.