WASHINGTON, D.C. – April 10, 2014 – (RealEstateRama) –In the closing days of the 2014 session, the General Assembly enacted 4 bills to put Maryland on a path towards preventing, mitigating the effects of, and ending homelessness. The successful legislative package reflects in large part the recommendations of a Statewide Task Force on Housing and Supportive Services for Unaccompanied Homeless Youth (the “Task Force”), which the Public Justice Center helped to create and operate. A summary of its components follows:
• HB 482/SB 455 extends the state’s existing higher education tuition waiver program for foster youth to unaccompanied homeless youth, young people who are without stable housing and the support of a parent or legal guardian. With the passage of this bill, unaccompanied homeless youth will be able to attend Maryland’s public universities, community colleges, and state approved vocational programs tuition free, dramatically improving their ability to earn the degrees and certifications necessary to secure stable and sustainable employment as adults.
• HB 794/SB 794 creates a demonstration project to count unaccompanied homeless youth and young adults in six diverse Maryland jurisdictions. Funded at $200,000 in the Governor’s Supplemental Budget, the demonstration project will gather quantitative and qualitative data about the numbers, experiences, and needs of unaccompanied homeless youth throughout the state to facilitate the delivery of effective interventions. This data will help inform the efficient allocation of resources and expand opportunities to seek federal and private funding to support this vulnerable population.
• HB 813/SB 795 establishes a Joint Committee on Ending Homelessness in the General Assembly to study homelessness and consider bills and resolutions relating to the issue. The Committee will increase the visibility of homelessness as an issue requiring legislative and programmatic responses, and will provide informal support and oversight to the Interagency Council on Homelessness, as described below.
• HB 1036/SB 796 convenes an Interagency Council on Homelessness, comprised of government officials as well as homeless individuals and their advocates, to assess the problem of homelessness in Maryland and create and implement public and private solutions.
The Public Justice Center and the Homeless Persons Representation Project led the effort to secure passage of the two bills with the most direct impact on youth homelessness, HB 482/SB 455 and HB 794/SB 794, with support from youth leaders at the Youth Empowered Society Drop In Center and partners from several other organizations and agencies. Additionally, the PJC provided testimony in support of HB 813/SB 795, which PJC allies Healthcare for the Homeless and Homeless Persons Representation Project helped to craft and lobby, and HB 1036/SB 796, a bill proposed by the Department of Human Resources following its participation in the Task Force. Leaders in the General Assembly who championed one or more of these bills include Delegate Mary Washington (lead sponsor of HB 482, HB 794, HB 813, and HB 1036 in the House of Delegates), Senator Edward Reilly (lead sponsor of SB 455 and SB 794 in the Senate), and Senator Richard Madaleno (lead sponsor of SB 795 and SB 796 in the Senate).
These legislative victories represent an important step toward reducing homelessness in Maryland and ensuring that those youth, families, and adults who do find themselves without stable housing receive the support they need to achieve long-term stability and success.