Helping homeless youth should be a top priority
Homeless outreach worker Stacy Arlain’s recent letter describing her critical work with the homeless is most definitely, as she calls it, a “learning opportunity” for all. In 2016, Neighborhood Legal Services prevented the eviction of over 6,000 Western New Yorkers by providing free legal representation in a high-stakes, high-stress, fast-moving, court-based process that leaves thousands of families on the brink of homelessness each year. Erie County’s 2016 homeless numbers increased by over 9 percent since 2015, up from 5,433 to 5,953 people. Of this number, the Homeless Alliance of Western New York estimates that 25 percent were children.
Accurate numbers for homeless youth and young adults are particularly difficult to obtain because many young people find temporary, but unstable, housing with their peers: a phenomena labeled couch-surfing. But staying on a friend’s couch does not cure youth homelessness. A 2017 Partnership for the Public Good and University at Buffalo School of Social Work report highlighted the plight of homeless youth and unique barriers to accessing stable, safe housing, staying healthy, attending school or working. LGBTQ youth are at significantly higher risk of becoming homeless.
American Bar Association President Hilarie Bass has made homeless youth a national priority by forming the ABA Homeless Youth Legal Network, which trains and links lawyers to assist homeless youth. This week, Compass House and other local nonprofits is counting homeless youth in Erie County. Neighborhood Legal Services (nls.org) welcomes volunteer attorneys to help us assist homeless youth and break the cycle of homelessness.
Neighborhood Legal Services
Interim Executive Director and Housing Unit Supervising Attorney