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CA legislators announce homeless youth bill

by Seth Hemmelgarn

Gay California Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) and Assemblywoman Blanca E. Rubio (D-Baldwin Park) Tuesday introduced a bill to help the state's homeless youth, while in the South Bay, county supervisors this week approved funds for a homeless shelter for LGBTQs.

At the state level, Senate Bill 918 would create an Office of Homeless Youth to establish goals and track progress on ending youth homelessness. The legislation would also direct $60 million toward addressing what the legislators called "the alarming rise of youth homelessness" in the state.

Wiener's office cited preliminary data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's 2017 homeless count that says the number of California's homeless youth has increased to more than 15,000, a 26 percent rise from 2016 and a 32 percent jump from 2015.

In San Francisco, almost half of the city's 1,363 homeless youth are LGBTQ, according to the 2017 San Francisco Homeless Count and Survey and the city's 2017 Homeless Unique Youth Count and Survey.

"Youth homelessness is a crisis in California, and we have a moral duty to take care of our young people before they fall into chronic homelessness," Wiener said in a news release. "The increasing number of homeless youth set off alarm bells across the state. SB 918 will help us get young people off the streets and into housing and services, which is how we will save lives and reduce chronic homelessness in the long-term."

Rubio stated, "Facing even one night of homelessness can leave a devastating mark on a young person's physical and psychological well-being. The research is definitive; there are significant negative consequences for youth if they are subjected to homelessness. That is why we have introduced SB 918, which would create the first line of defense to protect California's youth from this terrible situation."

The bill would establish $60 million in grants from the cannabis tax fund and general funds to programs for homeless youth. The money would be used for rapid rehousing, rental assistance, transitional housing, and shelters for minors and youth, among other assistance.

Last fall, Wiener and Rubio, who are the respective chairs of the Senate and Assembly Human Services Committees, held a hearing in Los Angeles on youth homelessness. At the hearing, service providers, formerly homeless youth, and others testified about the causes, experiences and impacts of youth homelessness in the state.
SB 918 is sponsored by Equality California, California Coalition for Youth, Tipping Point Community, John Burton Advocates for Youth, the Corporation for Supportive Housing, and Housing California.

Rick Zbur, EQCA's executive director, stated, "We are grateful for the commitment Senator Wiener and Assemblymember Rubio have shown to addressing the crisis of youth homelessness in our state, particularly the four out of 10 homeless young people who are LGBTQ in multiple major California cities. This measure will help improve the lives and provide opportunities for these young people through the funding it provides to meet their needs and help them find safe and secure homes."

Sherilyn Adams, who chairs California Coalition for Youth and serves as executive director of San Francisco's Larkin Street Youth Services, said, "The Office of Homeless Youth will ensure that all young people, and in particular LGBTQ youth and youth of color, who are over-represented among youth experiencing homelessness, will no longer have to sleep on the streets, and will have every opportunity to reach their full potential."

Santa Clara County shelter
In other news impacting homeless youth, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday directed the establishment of the area's first shelter focused on LGBTQs in response to what officials called "an epidemic of homelessness among LGBTQ youth and safety concerns by the transgender community."

In an email to supervisors last week, Fremont resident Shrinidhi Thirumalai, said, "I have one close friend of the LGBTQ+ community who was rejected by her communities and family when she came out. Luckily, she's a very social person, and she could call her close circle of friends for support. Yet, even she only had one friend who let her move in when home became unsafe. But what about those people who couldn't find that one friend? Where can they go to feel safe? With the creation of this shelter, they will have a guaranteed safe place."

Officials expect establishing the shelter to require one-time funding for facility upgrades and repairs, along with program start-up expenses, and ongoing funds for operations.

Along with establishing the LGBTQ space, the supervisors also approved four other actions Tuesday meant to invest in affordable housing and emergency shelters.

"Affordable housing for everyone from people living on the streets in the cold to our public school teachers has been and continues to be a top priority of the Santa Clara County Supervisors," Supervisor Cindy Chavez, who represents San Jose neighborhoods, said in a news release.

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