SECTION 1. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education estimates that nearly 6,000 high school students are homeless and on their own. Thousands more homeless youth are not reflected in these numbers because they have already dropped out of school. There is a desperate need for increased shelter and housing options for youth living without their parents. Youth homelessness takes its toll in both human and economic dimensions. Youth who are homeless as adolescents face bleak outcomes and can perpetuate a cycle of dependence on public systems that have extreme costs to the individual and communities. While many children are resilient and are able to overcome the ravages of homelessness, homelessness often leads to poor health outcomes including: increased risk of death, exposure to violence, susceptibility to exploitation and high risk behaviors, poor academic performance, and a lack of positive social interactions. The purpose of this Act is to reduce youth homelessness and its adverse effects by funding a continuum of housing and support services geared specifically toward unaccompanied homeless youth with the goal of improving housing and residential stability, reducing harm and the level of risk faced by youth and improving educational, physical and mental health outcomes for this population. Programs funded under this Act shall be administered by the Executive Office of Health and Human Services.
SECTION 2. (1) Notwithstanding any general or special law to the contrary, the Executive Office of Health and Human Services shall enter into performance-based contracts with organizations and agencies to provide housing and support services to address the needs of unaccompanied homeless youth. Programs funded under this Act shall provide a continuum of housing options for this population provided on a voluntary basis in conjunction with wraparound support services, which shall include but not be limited to: emergency shelter, “kinship” home placements, short term housing and “Transition to Independent Living” programs. The funded programs shall provide unaccompanied homeless youth with a stable out-of-home placement and help to reunite the youth with the youth’s parent or legal guardian if family reunification is in the youth's best interest, and help to create educational and residential stability. Additional support services funded through these contracts may include but are not limited to: individual, family and group counseling; access to medical, dental and mental health care; education and employment services; case management, advocacy and referral services; independent living skills training; and provision of basic needs.
(2) As used in this Act, "unaccompanied homeless youth" means a person 22 years of age or younger who is unaccompanied by a parent or guardian and is without shelter where appropriate care and supervision are available, whose parent or legal guardian is unable or unwilling to provide shelter and care or who lacks a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence. "Fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence" means a dwelling at which a person resides on a regular basis that adequately provides safe shelter. "Fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence" does not include a publicly or privately operated institutional shelter designed to provide temporary living accommodations; transitional housing; a temporary placement with a peer, friend, or family member who has not offered a permanent residence, residential lease or temporary lodging for more than 30 days; or a public or private place not designed for, nor ordinarily used as, a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings. "Homeless youth" does not include a person incarcerated or otherwise detained under federal or state law.
(3) The Executive Office of Health and Human Services shall establish requirements and shall contract for programs that ensure that services, as specified by this Act, are provided to homeless youth in the State in an appropriate and responsible manner.
(4) The Executive Office of Health and Human Services shall monitor organizations receiving funds under this Act to ensure that appropriate and high-quality services are being delivered to homeless youth, shall collect common data and outcome measures from these organizations, and shall file reports with Joint Committee on Children, Families, and Persons with Disabilities and the House and Senate Committees on Ways and Means by December 31 of each year regarding the data collected from the organizations, the incidence of youth homelessness in Massachusetts, and the status of and any change in housing, residential stability, educational stability and outcomes and well-being of homeless youth in the Commonwealth.
SECTION 3. The sums set forth in this section are hereby appropriated from the General Fund for the purpose of funding the programs specified in Section 2 of this Act subject to laws regulating the disbursement of public funds for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2012. Up to four percent of funds appropriated herein may be used for the administration of this funding including monitoring and evaluating programs that receive monies under this Act. Funding shall be directed to meet the greatest need with a significant share of the funding focused on housing, education and services provided through experienced homeless youth providers. Not less than twenty percent of the funds appropriated herein shall be used for housing and support services targeted to unaccompanied homeless youth enrolled in and attending high school or alternative educational programs to assist them in completing their education.
EXECUTIVE OFFICE OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES.
4300-XXXX ............................................................................................... $5,000,000
SECTION 4. Notwithstanding any general or special law to the contrary, there shall be a special commission for the purpose of studying and making recommendations concerning services for unaccompanied homeless youth under eighteen years of age with the goal of ensuring a comprehensive and effective response to the unique needs of this population. The focus of the commission’s study shall include, but not be limited to, an analysis of the barriers to serving unaccompanied youth under eighteen years of age; an assessment of the impact of mandated reporting requirements on unaccompanied youths’ access to services and the state’s ability to identify and connect with unaccompanied youth; and proposals to reduce identified barriers to serving this population, including but not limited to extending the time for certain categories of mandated reporters to file reports and/or establishing special licensure provisions to allow service providers to serve homeless youth under eighteen years of age. The commission, in formulating its recommendations, shall take account of the best policies and practices in other states and jurisdictions.
The commission shall include the Secretary of the Executive Office of Health and Human services or her designee, the Commissioner of Department of Children and Families or his designee, the Commissioner of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education or his designee, the Commissioner of the Department of Early Education and Care or her designee, the Undersecretary for the Department of Housing and Community Development or her designee, two members of the Senate, two members of the House of Representatives, three youth who have experienced homelessness, a representative from each of the following organizations: Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless, Children’s League of Massachusetts, Task Force on Youth Aging Out of Department of Children and Families Care, Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and Education, the Massachusetts Commission on Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Youth, and the Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance, and seven persons to be appointed by the Governor, five of whom shall be unaccompanied youth service providers.
The commission shall submit a report to the Governor, the Speaker of the House of Representative and the President of the Senate, the Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities no later than 9 months after the passage of this Act setting forth the commission’s conclusions on how to improve access to services for unaccompanied homeless youth under 18 years of age, together with any recommendations for regulatory or legislative action with a timeline for implementation, cost estimates and finance mechanisms. Thereafter, the commission submit a report annually by December 31 of each year to the Governor, the Speaker of the House of Representative and the President of the Senate, the Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities detailing the extent of homelessness among unaccompanied youth within the Commonwealth and the progress made toward implementing the commission’s recommendations along with other efforts to address the needs of this population.
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