By: Sara Brown, The Rainbow Times
The Massachusetts state Legislature voted in favor of an override to Gov. Charlie Baker’s veto of $2 million to support the creation of housing and wraparound supportive services for youth and young adults age 24 and younger who are experiencing homelessness outside the care and custody of a parent or legal guardian.
Many that work with and help homeless youth welcomed the override.
“I was elated,” said Erica Kay-Webster, founder and CEO of The Promise Place School, a home and educational program for homeless LGBTQ youth that have been rejected by their families. “I was keeping track of every single vote and I couldn’t be happier.”
According to Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless, funding would be given to the Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS) to enter into performance-based contracts with organizations and agencies to provide a continuum of housing and wraparound support services to unaccompanied youth who are experiencing homelessness.
Key-Webster was not the only one who reacted positively about the override.
“We are extremely grateful that the Legislature swiftly overrode Governor Baker’s disappointing veto of the much-needed, highly anticipated $2 million for housing and services for unaccompanied youth and young adults,” said Kelly Turley, Director of Legislative Advocacy at the Coalition.
The override was a bipartisan effort with the Legislature voting 154-0 in the House of Representatives and 38-0 in the Senate to restore the $2 million in youth homelessness funding.
“I think that shows that everyone understands the need of this funding,” said Key-Webster. “They took the necessary steps to address this issue in the budget and not ignore it.”
Gov. Baker said his biggest concern was that the state has a balanced budget when asked about the overrides the state voted on including the one on homeless youth.
“The budget is a combo platter, it’s a combination of decisions made by the House, Senate and us,” Baker said to reporters at the State House. “When they finish their work, we will take a look at it, add it up and figure out what we need to do to make sure the budget is balanced and we live within our means.”
According to Kay-Webster, almost half of the youth homeless population is LGBTQ.
“We keep encouraging our youth to come out younger and younger,” she said. “They are not all greeted with great reactions. Many are kicked out onto the street. They don’t have a safety net. It’s heartbreaking. How can you just ignore your youth like that?”
When news came out about Baker’s veto, many reacted negatively including Massachusetts LGBTQ Youth Commissioner, Coco Alinsug.
“I paused for a good minute when I found out,” Alinsug said. “I was speechless. It was an insult.”
According to a former TRT story, the MA Commission on LGBTQ Youth stated the need for other recommendations in their March, 2015 report that included “providing more funding dedicated to services for homeless LGBTQ youth; providing training for teachers and school staff on issues and risks facing LGBTQ youth; and identifying foster families for LGBTQ youth.” Since 1992, the TRT story also reported that the Commission has been tasked with making annual policy recommendations to address issues such as harassment, assault, suicide attempts, and homelessness, which affect LGBTQ youth at high rates.
Kay-Webster said $2 million is not nearly enough money to help solve the problem.
“It doesn’t even begin to make a dent but at least it’s a start,” she said. “If the money wasn’t restored, Gov. Baker would be contributing to chronic homelessness.”
Turley emphasized the urgency of the situation.
“As the youth and young adults we work with who are experiencing homelessness know all too well—and as most people can imagine, youth without homes can’t wait another year for state government to respond to their urgent needs,” Turley said.
However, before the override, Baker said he would revisit the issue of funding after the Unaccompanied Homeless Youth Commission gave their recommendations to the administration.
“I am vetoing this item because it is not consistent with my House 1 recommendation,” said Baker when he released his vetoes. “Once the Unaccompanied Homeless Youth Commission finalizes its recommendations, appropriate funding levels will be analyzed relative to Commission findings.”
Advocates for the homeless like Kay-Webster worry what will become of the youth if they are on the streets for too long.
“Once they hit the streets, they are victimized again,” said Kay-Webster. “There are a lot of sexual predators out there. They often find themselves victims of human trafficking. It’s just more guilt and shame on top of guilt and shame.”
Alinsug said being homeless is tough for anyone, not just children.
“They face a lot of discrimination. They are tempted to do illegal stuff to get by. They lose their self-respect sometimes,” Alinsug said.
Kay-Webster said she would like to meet with the governor to discuss the issue and have him tour The Promise Place School.
“He needs to understand the ramifications of this,” she said. “Just imagine for a moment [if] he had to go through those experiences as a young person.”
According to Alinsug, the state needs to start taking better care of their homeless youth population.
“What is $2 million for our kids? It’s nothing. We need to give them more,” Alinsug said.
Kay-Webster wanted to thank Democrats and Republicans alike who voted in favor of the override.
“We needed this funding and I am so thankful it’s a reality now,” she said.
To learn more about The Promise Place School, visit promiseplaceschool.org. To find more information on The Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless, visit mahomeless.org. The complete Commission’s March 2015 recommendations can be found at: massgovyouth.