USICH Blog

12/05/2013 - Groundbreaking Tool Helps Youth Experiencing Homelessness Navigate Legal Issues

By Diana Garcia, Staff Attorney, Columbia Legal Services

Columbia Legal Services has launched a groundbreaking tool to help thousands of Washington’s homeless youth find safety and stability, and understand their legal rights.

The Homeless Youth Handbook - Legal Issues and Options is a unique and comprehensive guide to the laws and issues that affect homeless youth in Washington State.  The handbook’s 18 chapters cover topics from education, health care, and housing to consumer and credit issues. 

Since many youth rely on mobile devices to receive information, the handbook is accessible through a specially designed mobile-friendly website. In addition, the handbook will be distributed in hard copy throughout the state to schools, libraries, agencies, social advocates and others. 

According to some estimates, at least 2,000 unaccompanied youth who are experiencing homelessness attend Washington’s schools. Thousands more young adults have nowhere to sleep at night.

Because this is a highly mobile population, it is difficult to determine how many youth are experiencing homelessness. Many youth find themselves homeless and alone after having been discharged from public institutions — foster care and juvenile detention among them — or because they ran from a dysfunctional family. 

Without a home, family support, or other resources, and without opportunities for work and housing, youth experiencing homelessness are threatened, isolated, fearful, unprotected, undernourished, emotionally unstable and, sometimes, in danger of losing their lives.

Understanding the law can make a real difference for youth. It can allow youth to have a place to live instead of sleeping on the street, being assaulted, prostituted, or worse. The handbook was designed to provide youth and the adults who are working with them with information and answers to assist in making life better for a young person experiencing homelessness.

Columbia Legal Services worked with the Law & Corporate Affairs Department of Starbucks Coffee Company and the global law firm of Baker & McKenzie to create the handbook. The team of lawyers and professionals dedicated hundreds of pro bono hours over a year to create the comprehensive guide. 

Columbia Legal Services’ Children and Youth Project (CYP) works to improve opportunities for Washington’s children and youth to have safe and stable families and homes, quality education, health care, and economic stability. On behalf of all children and youth who are low-income, at-risk, homeless, or in foster care, CYP utilizes community education and empowerment, research, policy advocacy, and litigation that will continue to result in both the protection of childhood and the successful transition to adulthood for tens of thousands of Washington’s youngest residents. For more information on CYP please see the Colubmia Legal Children & Youth page. You can follow CYP on twitter here.

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