Homeless kids would have safer options under Michigan legislation

By: - March 14, 2022 4:10 am

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Legislation that aims to provide a “safe harbor” for homeless Michigan children has been introduced in the Michigan Legislature.

House Bill 5756, sponsored by state Rep. Lori Stone (D-Warren), would provide a “safe harbor for youth” for up to 72 hours with or without parental consent. The measure, introduced on Feb. 15, also seeks to better regulate homeless shelters designed for children. It would create licensing, establish standards; prescribe powers and duties of certain state departments and adoption facilitators; and level penalties to those who violate the statute.

Stone said the legislation emanates from conversations with homeless shelter representatives about the need to increase the 24-hour period to secure parental permission before having to report youth to the state’s child protective services office.

“Providers at shelters believe that if they have a broader window to facilitate discussions with parents, they can obtain that permission and provide youth with a safe environment and services to help them through this process,” said Stone, a former schoolteacher who sits on the House Education, Health Policy and Insurance committees.

Pam Cornell-Allen, Ozone House Youth & Family Services associate director, said Stone’s legislation would help her Ypsilanti-based agency better carry out its work. The organization provides shelter and services such as family counseling for homeless children.  

“[The policy change will help] to bring a young person, start to build that relationship and that trust with our staff and that young person, and we can understand their situation and what their needs are — and then reach out and notify the parent of what has happened,” said Cornell-Allen.  

Ozone House Youth & Family Services facility in Ypsilanti photo

The bill’s introduction comes at a time when a new report released last month indicates that an estimated 22,444 high school youth didn’t have a stable place to live across the state of Michigan in 2019, according to the University of Michigan’s Poverty Solutions Initiative. 

This is the equivalent of 5.6% of all high school youth in the state, per the study, with Black, Native American and Latino youth reporting higher rates (8%, 8% and 7% respectively).

“These youth are homeless — living outside, in shelters, or bouncing from couch to couch. They are estranged from their parents, usually due to abuse, neglect, or parents’ struggles with addiction, mental health problems, or extreme poverty,” a portion of the report said. “Homeless youth experience multiple negative physical, mental, and behavioral health outcomes. Early intervention is imperative since the length of homelessness compounds and increases the risks of poor health outcomes, such as suicide attempts, sexual assault, exposure to violence, and human trafficking.”

Among all high school youth who were homeless in Michigan in 2019, nearly 18,000 are estimated to be minors under the age of 18 — including at least 6,400 facing homelessness unaccompanied, the report added. 

“Of the 22,444 children, more than one-quarter (27%) of youth experiencing homelessness in the last 30 days reported living in a situation that was disconnected from social support structures,” the report stated. “Forty percent of these youth identified as LGBTQ despite LGBTQ youth only making up 16% of all high school students.”

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Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman covers Southeast Michigan, economic justice and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.

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