NOTE: This post was submitted to the Coalition by Sarah Schneider, a senior at Brandeis University studying American Studies with a minor in Social Justice and Social Policy. Sarah is originally from Cincinnati, Ohio and has enjoyed getting to know and be a part of social justice issues in Massachusetts.
As a college student on a campus that frequently discusses the meaning of “social justice” and promotes social justice advocacy, it is evident to me that unaccompanied youth homelessness is a serious social justice concern that needs to be addressed in the Commonwealth. Over the past semester of advocating for housing and support services for unaccompanied homeless youth with The Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless, I have learned an enormous amount about the youth themselves as well as how the Massachusetts legislative process works and how power can best be leveraged to support fundamental human needs.
Before the semester began, I knew little about the legislative process. However, by partnering with Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless to advocate for House Bill 135, An Act for Housing and Supportive Services for Unaccompanied Youth. I quickly learned that advocating effectively for legislation is very much a grassroots endeavor. The significance of the voices of voting constituents was made apparent as legislative offices asked if I was a constituent when I went to lobby for the bill. I have frequently been asked throughout my life to call legislators, but was unaware of the power that one voice actually could have. For many years I simply assumed that there was nothing I could do to make a difference in the legislative process, and now I know how false that assumption was. This knowledge will empower me to me speak out for a range of issues I care about in the future rather than ignoring calls to action.
Meeting with legislators and legislative aides also alerted me to the simple fact that so many bills and budget items are being discussed that many legislators need lobbyists to bring their attention to specific bills. Within my partnership with the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless, there are multiple primary budget priorities, to learn more about these FY 2014 budget priorities, please visit http://www.mahomeless.org/images/FY14_Budget_and_Bill_Priorities_3-15-13.pdf. Furthermore, these people are humans and many have children or youth in their lives that they care about deeply. Learning to appeal to the humanity of legislators while also remaining knowledgeable about the details of the legislation helps people in the State House meaningfully connect with the issue. Meeting with legislators in person and having that presence in an office also shows a heightened level of concern about the issue.
Ultimately, it is the resilience and strength of the youth themselves that inspires me to continue to advocate for their needs. The youth who shared their stories at Legislative Action Day, the “State of Unaccompanied Youth” Legislative Briefing, on YouTube in the Unaccompanied Youth Video, or in person with legislators should be applauded for their bravery in speaking out and sharing their stories. These youth should be listened to as people who have very real health, safety, stability, educational, and vocational needs. As a college senior planning for the future while finishing up my schoolwork, I cannot imagine dealing with these tasks and everyday stressors without having the love and support of family and friends, and I cannot imagine how hard it must be to make it to work or school while worrying about such basic things as finding a safe place to sleep at night. I can only imagine how much healthier and happier everyone in our state would be if we provided such basic needs as housing and support services to these youth, youth who are our state and country’s future.