Why We Need New Laws For Youth Experiencing Homelessness in Massachusetts

My name is Jiayi Liu, an advocacy intern at Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless. I am a rising sophomore at the University Of Notre Dame, and with the funding from the university's First Year Research Ignition Fellowship, I was able to work for free at the Coalition on the unaccompanied homeless youth issue.

Before I started working towards my undergraduate degree, I had been volunteering at an orphanage once in a while. Children in the orphanage got abandoned for many reasons, none of which their own fault. I could only think of how unfortunate these children were and how irresponsible their parents were. The thought that I could change the situation never occurred to me until I took a few Sociology and American studies courses, in which I learned a lot from literatures and documentaries about poverty and homelessness and how improving social policies could better the situation from the roots.

I have always been aware of the fact that when children age out of foster care system, they become homeless. I have seen many young people of my age wandering on the streets, not knowing where to go, and it makes me shiver. What if they become victims of human trafficking? What if they get freeze to death in the cold harsh winter? Who will think of them or look for them when they are missing? If they are lucky enough to make it through, many of them are still missing their time to receive education and get their life started, not because of they do not want to but because they cannot. The vicious cycle of homelessness continues and homeless population just keeps rising. I want to change the situation, and I want to change it from the roots. And guess what, you can help out to change it too.

After I began working at the Coalition, my knowledge of youth homelessness has expanded so much. Now, I know youth homelessness has more reason than just aging out of orphanages – it could happen due to families' poverty, domestic violence, sexual abuse, drug addiction and even discrimination against certain sexual orientation. The causes of unaccompanied youth's homelessness are complex, so I only know two things for sure: they need help, and there is not enough help out there, not even in this great democratic state of Massachusetts where amazing reforms and revolutions happen. In Boston, there are only 25 beds designed for the needs of thousands of unaccompanied youth. Even if some of them are qualified for adult shelters, they have to line up for a bed every single night with no guarantee they could get in. We need consistent, reliable funding from the state to build shelters that these young, promising people could trust so that they don't need to worry about where to sleep tomorrow.

We have got to break the cycle of homelessness before today's unaccompanied youth become tomorrow's homeless adults by providing our youth with stable housing and basic services they need, and passing necessary legislations is the best way to ensure continuous government funding. Even if it might be hard to pass a piece of legislation in the state, we still need to dash for a change to help our youth and set an example to other states, even to the rest of the world. Unaccompanied youth cannot wait any longer; they are already missing out golden years of their lives when anything is possible and full of hope. We cannot wait until the next legislative session to pass this important bill to protect our youth! Please contact your state legislators and ask them to act upon this serious issue today about House Bill 135, "An Act providing housing and support services to unaccompanied homeless youth" before time runs out—for both this important piece of legislation and for the unaccompanied youth on the streets. The last day to push this bill through the next step of legislation process is July 31st, 2014. Act before it is too late. If you are not sure who to contact, please go to: www.wheredoivotema.com/bal/MyElectionInfo.aspx to find out who your legislators are and how you can contact them!

By Jiayi Liu
Intern at the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless
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