Smith-Wade-El, Bullock hold news conference on youth homelessness

HARRISBURG, March 27 – State Rep. Ismail Smith-Wade-El, D-Lancaster, was joined by state Rep. Donna Bullock, D-Phila., and community stakeholders in a Capitol news conference yesterday to call for an increase in the 2024-2025 budget to address the upcoming shortfall in supports for homeless youth in Pennsylvania.

“Today, there are over 40,000 students without housing in our state, struggling to go to school and learn despite not having a home of their own,” Smith-Wade-El said. “Though our school districts have been able to provide some needed support thanks to the American Rescue Plan for Homeless Children and Youth, they will no longer be able to do so when this aid runs out January 31st, 2025.  With evictions still on the rise since the COVID pandemic and affordable housing at a minimum, we should be doing everything we can to provide support to this vulnerable population, but right now there are no plans to make up for this shortfall in the proposed 2024-2025 budget.

“I am calling on the state to step up and ensure that these vulnerable members of our society get the supports they need to feel safe and secure so they can succeed in school in the 2024-2025 state budget,” Smith-Wade-El said. “If we do not do this, I promise you that Pennsylvania will be plagued for years to come from the effects of our abandonment of these kids.”

“Housing insecurity knows no boundaries. It spans rural townships and cities and has immense negative impacts on the well-being of the children and youth experiencing it,” Bullock said. “Unfortunately, youth experiencing homelessness are often unseen and don’t receive the assistance they need because they aren’t in shelters or highly visible places. They’re couch surfing with friends or relatives and their place of residence is transient. However, in the wake of the pandemic, even with the difficulties the state currently faces in identifying it, we’ve seen a disturbing increase in the number of youth experiencing housing insecurity due to foster care and the system, overall, failing. I find that unacceptable. The commonwealth must take action to plan and support assistance for youth experiencing housing insecurity as they move through life. It is our duty in the state legislature to invest in our communities and invest in ending this crisis by passing a budget that breaks down barriers and invests in our young people.”

Representatives of community organizations addressing youth homelessness also spoke out on the need for funding to address the coming crisis.

“There were over 40,000 homeless children and youth in PA at last count, the highest number on record. They all deserve a chance to succeed in school, but right now, we’re not offering it to them,” said Brian Knight, director of community engagement, Homeless Children's Education Fund, Pittsburgh. “We need to invest in their success now, or we’ll pay the price in the future.”

“Without increasing funding for students experiencing homelessness, we are at risk of continuing to see equity issues within our education system,” said Allysa Weinfurtner, director of emergency services, Valley Youth House, Philadelphia Youth.  “In Philadelphia, 78% of young people who experience homelessness are Black or African American. Homelessness is a racial-justice issue, and if we do not invest in our young people, we are at risk of furthering racial disparities within our education system and our communities. We know that youth homelessness is directly tied to a person's likelihood of experiencing homelessness as an adult, so investing in these supports for our children is actually an effective preventative measure.”