Gov. Tony Evers signed in Assembly Bill 52 Nov. 19, which allows 17-year-olds to check themselves into homeless shelters or transitional living homes.

In order to check themselves into a home, two conditions must be met. First, the person seeking shelter must not be under the supervision of a social service agency, parent or guardian and second, a school homeless liaison must confirm that the person is unaccompanied. Social service agencies include the county department, the Department of Children and Families, the Department of Corrections and the child welfare agency. If a school homeless liaison is not available to confirm the minor’s living status, an employee at the shelter or transitional program is able to confirm that they are unaccompanied.

 “No kid should have to worry about where they are going to sleep at night, but the reality is that there are thousands of homeless and unaccompanied kids across our state,” Gov. Evers said in his press release regarding this Act. “This bill gives some of those kids the ability to access safe emergency housing when they are experiencing a crisis. With the cold winter months already here, I hope this is one of many bipartisan initiatives we can take to make sure folks experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity are able to be safe and warm this winter.”

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A.B. 52 was first introduced Feb. 18. During its creation, recommendations from committees were taken into consideration. In these recommendations, they reaffirmed that this bill would be helpful to the homeless youth population.

The Committee on Children and Families met to discuss the bill April 2and the Committee on Universities, Technical Colleges, Children and Families did the same Aug. 29.  During the meeting, the Committee on Children and Families recommended that a liaison confirm that the youth is homeless or unaccompanied and if no liaison is available, an employee of a shelter may confirm it as well.

During the meeting with the Committee of University, Technical Colleges, Children and Families, they concurred that this bill would be helpful to the homeless youth population. Along with those recommendations, they referred to the Committee on Rules.

One representative that played a main role in the creation of this bill, state Rep. Amy Loudenbeck, R-Clinton, said it was created to meet requests made within her district. Advocates for unaccompanied and homeless youth within her district wanted to give older teens more assistance when it came to stable housing in order to complete their high school education. Along with that request, they wanted further help with youth and their access to work and mental health services.

“This bill provides a narrow option that respects parents’ rights and maintains the integrity of the juvenile court and justice system,” Loudenbeck said.

According to the 2018 Annual Homelessness Assessment Report to Congress reported that 20%, or 111,592, of those that were homeless were children under the age of 18. The National Coalition for the Homeless reports that 75% of homeless or runaway youth have dropped out of school or will drop out of school in the near future. They report that there are three categories as to why youth become homeless: family problems, economic problems and residential instability.

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When Loudenbeck considered this bill, she said she did research on homeless youth. She found that the opioid and meth crisis have been causing strains on families, with jailed parents leaving behind their children. Loudenbeck said the bill has been created to help assist in situations like this, and noted that youth also need to be protected against abuse, human trafficking and exploitation.

The Road Home is a local Madison homeless shelter that focuses on housing families with children under the age of 18. The Road Home Dane County has been operating for 20 years under the mission of “every child deserves a home.” During this time, they have served 175 families and over 400 children. They offer resources for crisis housing but also work toward building skills, resources and relationships to set people on the path for long-term success.

Amber Thompson, a Rapid Rehousing case manager at The Road Home, said they are not concerned about this affecting their particular organization too much. But overall, they believe it is great that this bill is bringing awareness to a group in need of it.

“Reducing barriers is always a positive thing,” Thompson said.

Thompson attested to the fact that there have been issues in the past of having to turn down parents who are under the age of 18 due to them being minors. With this bill being passed, their shelter is allowed to take in 17-year-old parents, as long as they meet the other criteria. They said this happens infrequently, around only three to four times a year.

“Local advocates for unaccompanied and homeless youth in my district asked me to help them find options for older teens without stable housing who want to complete their high school education,” Loudenbeck said.