Unaccompanied, homeless youths are some of the country’s most vulnerable individuals. The number of homeless youths has increased significantly over the past two years. Between 2013 and 2013, there were over 1.25 million homeless students in the public school system. This number has increased 85% since the Great Recession of 2008.
The homeless youth population also makes up a population that is difficult to reach out to and provide services for. Recently, in Hartford, Connecticut, a Center for Children’s Advocacy (CCA) decided to start taking legal aid directly to this homeless population with their new mobile legal office.
This legal office on wheels will seek and connect with hundreds of homeless young people of the Hartford area, and provide attorneys to help them navigate through different legal rights the federal law provides to homeless, unaccompanied minors. In addition, the legal aid workers can assist in helping the youths enroll in school, even without obtaining a comprehensive educational record. Since most youths move a lot in their lifetime, finding a full educational record can be difficult. However, the federal law states that they can enroll in school regardless of this information and providing immunization records; many homeless young people do not know this. The mobile law office will also help them access federal college aid money and health insurance systems without having to provide parental information.
Under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, school districts are to designate a homeless liaison to help eligible students. However, many of the young adults don’t like to label themselves as “homeless”. They tend to think of themselves as “couch surfing” or “house hopping”, and view homelessness as “sleeping on the streets”. Furthermore, schools have trouble identifying students who fall under the “homeless liaison” because of the stereotypical outlook of the word “homeless”. The law is fit to include those who do not have a permanent place of residence, which can also qualify them for legal aid they never knew they could access.
So far, there are two mobile legal aid vans targeting those in the Hartford area, as well as rural sections of the state.
Besides providing legal aid, the mobile lawyer group hopes to help more young people to find connections between other young people, organizations, and legal resources, and provide them with help that may not be well known.