ICE/LVJEFFERSON CITY — A bill that would give homeless and “unaccompanied youth” access to support systems was discussed by the Committee for Seniors, Families, Veterans & Military Affairs on Wednesday.

Sponsored by Sen. Lincoln Hough, R-Springfield, Senate Bill 536 “would allow homeless and unaccompanied teenagers 16 years of age and older a mechanism to access shelter and supportive services.”

The bill, Hough said, would focus on “the immediate needs like food and shelter, as well as connection to the community, resources that primarily, I hope, would, re-engage those individuals back into our school systems and get them graduating on time.”

Sen. Bill White, R-Joplin, chairperson of the committee, proposed similar legislation last year, that although passed through committee, was not signed into law.

Five witnesses testified, all of whom were in favor of the bill. 

Allison Gregory is the executive director of FosterAdopt Connect in Springfield. “This bill is super important for us because it takes a vulnerable population that really often falls through the cracks,” Gregory said.

“When you're 16 and you become homeless, you're typically very hard to find. You are hiding because you don't want to be turned in to social services, and you're just trying to survive," she said. "These kids may become homeless for a variety of reasons. They may leave their home because of abuse that they have experienced. They might be kicked out because they identify as LGBTQ… there are a variety of reasons why they may leave.”

According to Gregory, Springfield has around 1,100 kids that are unsheltered.

“We know they’re out there, but we are unable to connect them to resources," Gregory said. "...this bill is so important because we can't access those kids, because we don't have that trust factor that's developed, and this will really allow us to have that trust factor to really bring them in and talk with them and have a dialogue.”

Jessica Funk is currently working as the youth programs manager for Community Connections Youth Project from FosterAdopt Connect in Kansas City. She spoke about her personal connection to the bill.

“I became homeless at the age of 13 and kind of bounced around between different relatives," Funk said. "My mother was in prison for most of my life, my father was abusive. He was also an addict. At 13, I knew that I could not stay any longer, so I bounced around from probably about 10 to 12 different places between 13 and then by the time that I graduated. 

I knew that there were resources out there, but the biggest fear is even though that was my father and he was abusive and he was on drugs, I didn't want anything bad to happen to him," Funk said. "I didn't want the state to get involved. I didn't want to be hotlined, so there were a lot of services that I feel I missed out on, and I don't want that to happen to any youth moving forward.”

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