State Lawmakers Seek Funding for Homeless And Foster Youth

Alissa Keny-Guyer hears a proposal Ben Botkin.jpg

Oregon lawmakers want to put more money into helping unaccompanied homeless youth before they enter adulthood without a home or future. 

They live in the shadows, failed by their families, public schools and the foster care system. 

Their numbers are unknown, but estimated at 3,700 to 4,200.  

The House Committee on Human Services and Housing on Monday heard testimony about a proposal that would put $2.5 million toward programs to help unaccompanied homeless youth get housing and other services. Lawmakers acknowledge the small investment isn’t enough for all the state’s needs.  

Currently, Oregon spends $1.14 per child per day, said ​Rep. Cheri Helt of Bend​, a member of the House Human Services and Housing Committee.  

That’s a conservative estimate based off the Oregon Department of Human Services self-sufficiency budget, which has $3.1 million for the biennium.  

“I want to call this bill a tourniquet because I don’t feel this is going to fix our problems but we desperately need a tourniquet,” ​Helt​ said.  

Richard Donovan, a lobbyist with the Oregon School Boards Association, said his organization supports the legislation, noting that schools often serve as a refuge for homeless students. 

“However, that refuge only lasts as long as the school day,” he said. “After that, these young people have no home to go to.” 

House Bill 4039 would provide funding for 14 providers that serve runaways and homeless youth with shelter and outreach services. It also would support a host home program that provides shelter to youth.

“We know this is not enough and we know there are not enough of these providers in the state,” said committee Chair Rep. Alissa Keny Guyer, D-Portland.

The bill also has a $300,000 set aside for an assessment of the problem.

Lawmakers on the committee also heard testimony on House Bill 4141, which would put $2.6 million into the state’s court-appointed special advocate fund.

Less than 20% of state funding is used to support the court-appointed special advocate program, said Debra Gilmore, chief executive officer of the Oregon CASA Network.

The program uses volunteers to advocate in court for abused and neglected children.

Not all of the 11,000-plus children in foster care get an advocate through the program. Last year, more than half of the children in foster care did not have an advocate. Gilmore said the funding will help the program serve an additional 1,000 children.

You can reach Ben Botkin at [email protected] or via Twitter @BenBotkin1.


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