Y2Y calls on Legislature to restore funding for youth homelessness

By Sam Greenberg and Sarah Rosenkrantz

The Cambridge Chronicle– July 28, 2015

The leaders of Y2Y Harvard Square, a new student-run shelter for young adults in Harvard Square scheduled to open in November, are calling on members of the Legislature to overturn Gov. Charlie Baker’s veto of $2 million in funding for housing and support services for homeless youth in the commonwealth.

This short-sighted decision on the part of the governor strikes a direct blow to the young adults working hard to change their lives and find homes. This funding, the first-ever dedicated state funding to this population, had been recommended and approved by the MA Conference Committee, and Gov. Baker took away this historic leap forward without sufficient comment or explanation.

Last week when the exciting news of funding was shared with our Young Adult Advisory Council – a group of 10 young adults who have experienced homelessness – it was so clear how much this mattered; how much the courage they had to repeatedly tell their stories mattered. Gov. Baker’s budget cut tells them otherwise.

Bridge Over Troubled Waters’ Executive Director Elisabeth Jackson voiced a hope that the veto would be overturned: “At Bridge Over Troubled Waters, we have been serving homeless youth and young adults for 45 years and advocate consistently for age-appropriate services for youth at risk, outside of the adult homeless system. By reaching these vulnerable young people early, while they still have hope, we can prevent them from joining the ranks of chronically homeless adults. …; We have an historic opportunity to prevent increasing homelessness in the commonwealth and support those who have been working without substantial state investment toward this goal. We are hopeful that this critical funding will be restored.”

Carl Sciortino, executive director of AIDS Action Committee, said, “AIDS Action Committee served more than 300 homeless young adults last year in our Youth on Fire program. We know firsthand how important it is the state step up its investment in meeting the needs of this vulnerable population, and urge the Legislature to fund the unaccompanied homeless youth line item by overriding the governor’s veto.”

Y2Y Harvard Square and its partners are calling on Massachusetts residents to contact their state legislators and ask them to override the governor’s veto and restore this funding.

The first dedicated state funding to this population in Massachusetts history would have impacted the thousands of unaccompanied youth and young adults experiencing homelessness in Massachusetts.

Youth become homeless due to abuse, neglect and lack of family support, and are vulnerable in adult shelters and on the streets. Studies show that intervention at this age is critical to prevent a lifetime of chronic homelessness.

This budget allocation was the product of years of hard work by stakeholders. Under the leadership of the MA Coalition for the Homeless and the MA Executive Office of Health and Human Services, the Legislature voted in 2012 to create the Massachusetts Special Commission on Unaccompanied Homeless Youth. This group has worked to conduct research and put forth recommendations relative to services for unaccompanied homeless youth. The Legislature has the ability to overturn Baker’s veto, with a two-thirds majority vote in both chambers.

“How very unfortunate and shortsighted,” said Ellen Semonoff, assistant city manager for Human Services for the city of Cambridge. “Spending money on helping to end youth homelessness represents an investment in the future of young people who have a strong chance of turning their lives around. With the funding the Legislature had agreed to in the state budget, we were poised to support young homeless individuals to move toward a safer future they are ready to embrace.”

Y2Y Harvard Square, a student-run overnight shelter, employs a youth-to-youth model to provide a safe and affirming environment for young adults experiencing homelessness. Y2Y guests will have opportunities to collaborate with service providers, other young adults experiencing homelessness, and student volunteers to create sustainable pathways out of homelessness and develop skills for long-term success. Y2Y provides opportunities for guests and volunteers to become the next generation’s leading advocates for young adult-driven solutions to homelessness.

The best way to overturn Baker’s veto is to call or email your senator and representatives, as each chamber will need a two-thirds majority vote. For information, go to www.wheredoivotema.com or call the State House at 617-722-2000.