Baker & McKenzie Pro Bono Partner & Executive Director Angela Vigil enjoys a great view with young leaders.
Last week, members of our National Youth Advisory Council (NYAC) met in Washington, DC for the 2016 Homeless Youth Law & Policy Summit. Hosted at the law offices of Baker & McKenzie, this two-day event showcased several of NN4Y's youngest and most engaging policy advocates. On behalf of our Youth Advisors, NN4Y thanks the American Bar Association (ABA) and HHS’s Family and Youth Services Bureau (FYSB) for facilitating this incredible opportunity.
To kick off the event, Director of Youth Engagement Yorri Berry-Harris moderated a discussion between three of our own Youth Advisors and one local advocate. Throughout the session, these young leaders shared the challenges they faced while homeless, such as not having photo identification, being fined for sleeping in public, having difficulty attending school and accessing critically important legal services. Likewise, they reflected on the people, services and strategies that enabled them to overcome these challenges and exit homelessness.
Following the panel, Courtney, Silas and Sharday were asked to reflect on their experiences - not just as expert panelists, but as active participants throughout the two-day event. Here's what they had to say:
I really appreciated the opportunity to discuss some of the struggles I experienced while homeless. The Youth Law & Policy Summit also gave me a chance to learn about problems other youth have faced, which was a source of comfort and empowerment. My key takeaway was that each state has very different policies, but this does not prevent people from coming together to solve their problems.
- Sharday Hamilton, new Youth Advisor
While participating in the Youth & Young Adult Panel, I spoke about barriers that many young people experiencing homelessness face when trying to receive an education. This topic is important, because a level playing field can only stem from access to quality education. My key takeaway from the Summit was that progress is possible only when everyone has a place at the table. In the same vein, we must be willing to move beyond that table to orchestrate change.
- Courtney Smith, new Youth Advisor
While attending the summit, I spoke about the criminalization of young people in this country who are experiencing houselessness. What does that look like? For many youth, it means tickets for illegal camping and loitering, or criminal charges for public urination and prostitution.
I am angry, and that anger is well founded. But I believe it is important to continually bring these issues to light at the city, state and federal level in the hopes of inspiring change. There are a lot of good people doing good work in this country. If there weren't, conversations like this would not be happening.
- Silas Follendorf, returning Youth Advisor
At the ABA event, advocates from across the country had an opportunity to hear from three other NN4Y team members. Executive Director Darla Bardine spoke on the Access to Justice panel about the most common civil legal needs that young people experiencing homelessness face, like access to public benefits, landlord and tenancy issues and access to school records. Public Policy Associate Amy Louttit presented on the Identification panel about the state-by-state resources NN4Y has created to assist young people and service providers obtain photo identification. Director of Public Policy Eric Masten facilitated a session about Public System Responsibility, where panelists shared their perspectives on the roles of specific systems, mainly child welfare and juvenile justice.
If you missed the ABA Summit, there are many more opportunities to connect with the NN4Y team and Youth Advisors. This fall, catch our team at one of the following events:
- TCF 40 to None Summit in Los Angeles, CA - October 7th to 8th
- NHSDC Fall Conference in New Orleans, LA - October 12th to 14th
- WAHRS State Conference in Door County, WI - October 16th to 18th
- NAEHCY Conference in Orlando, FL - October 29th to November 1st
- National RHY Grantees Conference in St. Petersburg, FL - November 15th to 17th
To learn more about the NYAC - including opportunities to join - please reach out to Director of Youth Engagement Yorri Berry-Harris.