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According to reports, there are more children living on the streets of America than there are prisoners living in its prisons.
Yet those 2.5 million homeless children, unlike criminal defendants, have no right to counsel for their legal predicaments. Unlike the inmates, who don't worry about having a bed or food every day, the homeless have no guarantee they will survive to the next day.
There is something tragically wrong with this picture, and the American Bar Association is doing something about it.
The ABA launched the Homeless Youth Legal Network to help homeless children and youth up to age 25, with resources for the attorneys and social groups who serve them.
The network involves more than 20 ABA entities, focusing on three groups: homeless youth who need legal help; lawyers seeking legal training or technical assistance for working with the homeless; and services providers who work with the homeless.
"The Homeless Youth Legal Network is a fine example of how the American Bar Association can link youth experiencing homelessness with experts in the legal community who can help," ABA President Linda A. Klein said. "This project, made possible with a grant from the ABA Enterprise Fund, shows how we can harness the power and reach of the ABA to improve access to justice by providing much-needed legal assistance to vulnerable populations."
In recent months, the program has launched a website, surveyed more than 300 people about legal needs in their communities, created a list with more than 250 attorneys and advocates for homeless youth, and started training for legal service providers.
The network has chosen 12 model programs to highlight promising practices across the country, and to illustrate the value of legal services for youth at high risk for homelessness. They include:
Each program faces significant challenges because of the large number of homeless youth and the scarcity of resources for them. It is also difficult to get a handle on homeless youth -- or even a complete count -- because they are on the streets and often don't know how to get help.
"At first, individuals may come to the Youth Resource Center for a shower, to do laundry or get some food," says the Youth Resource Center for Homeless and At-risk Teens in Utah. "But once trust is built, we're able to serve them in more meaningful ways."
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