State lawmakers highlight bills to end youth homelessness

At least one in every 30 adolescents will endure some type of homelessness

HARRISBURG, Nov. 15 – Through no fault of their own, thousands of Pennsylvania children will experience homelessness this school year. A bipartisan group of state lawmakers, advocates and people who had experienced homelessness as children highlighted legislation that will provide the necessary safeguards to help youth receive the services and resources they need to stay safe. The bills will also help youth and young adults leave difficult or unsafe living conditions by pursuing and obtaining an education and advanced skills.

“Homelessness knows no boundaries,” said Rep. Donna Bullock, who is the majority chair of the House Children and Youth Committee. “Homelessness affects our cities as well as our rural townships and boroughs. Housing insecurity should not be a barrier to a quality education. One of the most troubling consequences in youth homelessness, however, remains the number of children forced to live on the streets because of the difficulty experienced by their parents or guardians.”

A first-of-its-kind study in 2017 revealed 4.2 million young people have experienced homelessness.

“Youth experiencing homelessness often go unseen,” Rep. Ryan Bizzarro said. “They might crash at a friend’s house or sleep in a car, but just because they might have found a place to stay for the night doesn’t mean they have a place to call home. My bill addresses this issue by removing the costs associated with acquiring a driver’s licenses for students enrolled in education programs, paving the way for them to receive life-saving services.”

The Pennsylvania Department of Education reported more than 40,000 children and youth had been identified as homeless during the 2021-22 school year – a statewide record.  

“Ending the vicious cycle of homelessness can be difficult and overwhelming,” Rep. Mark Rozzi said. “Moving out of a shelter or motel might only be temporary for someone who then suffers another health emergency or financial setback. My bills acknowledge these barriers and help to provide housing and services for youth and young people wishing to move out of poverty by obtaining a higher level of education or training. We cannot continue to punish children who are only attempting to improve their lives.”

Lawmakers and advocates addressed the need for more information and studies, since many families hide homelessness because of its stigma or the fear of having their family broken up if they ask for services and help.

“We cannot expect to take the next step in ending youth homelessness until we fully understand what many of our students are experiencing,” Rep. Melissa Shusterman said. “My bill would create a pilot program for students experiencing homelessness so we can learn how to better assist and support them.”

Measures highlighted during the news conference include HB 127, HB 729, HB 730, HB 1175.   

State lawmakers Reps. Gina H. Curry, who represents portions of Delaware County, and Abby Major, who represents portions of Armstrong and Westmoreland counties, also spoke at the news conference.

Advocates and supporters of the effort to end youth homelessness appeared at the news conference, including Barbara Huggins (PA Legislative Advocacy Committee to End Homelessness); Ejay Velez (Youth Collaboratory, National Youth Advisory Council); Nikki Johnson-Huston (lawyer, former Ms. Pennsylvania); and Sonia Pitzi (PA Education of Children and Youth Experiencing Homelessness).