Why Florida’s Legislators Should Vote for HB 1577 / SB 1708 — Rebecca’s Testimony

My name is Rebecca, and I am a survivor of homelessness. If it wasn’t for my educators and school counselor noticing the signs and the changes in my behavior at the age of 15, I may not be sitting here with you all today. Contrary to popular belief, young people experiencing homelessness doesn’t always mean living on the streets. I couch surfed for a while just to stay away from my home, where drugs, depression, and abuse were the norm. I would leave before the sun rose from my friend’s houses to not have to face the humiliation of the next morning at breakfast when parents would usually ask what my parents do, or why I’d never want to go home. 

There are many more who don’t even have the friends or courage to ask for a couch. I’d wait outside the school for the doors to open, and scarf down my breakfast in the bathroom for fear of anyone noticing how hungry I was. The laws already in place because of this committee saved my life. My counselor connected me with Project Up-Start, helped me get my drivers license, helped me pay for gas to get to school, gave me money for food, and even had someone come and talk to me and just ask me if I was okay weekly. They showed interest in me, they believed in my potential, they cared about me. It felt like there was an army of angels standing beside me from that day forward. I’ll never forget the simple act of one of my teachers opening their classroom to me an hour before school started just so that I could have breakfast with them and talk. To them they were small acts of kindness, but to me they were so significant. They helped me find the courage to ask my sister for help. Thanks to her generosity, I found myself with a home. At every moment though, I felt like I could lose it if I wasn’t perfect. The uncertainty that weighed on my heart those years in high school made it extremely difficult to prioritize my education.

Nevertheless, I did. I persevered thanks to my amazing liaison Debra Albo-Steiger and my school counselor Beatrice Pedroso. They gave me so many resources I didn’t even know were available to me. After being awarded a scholarship from SchoolHouse Connection and experiencing a great amount of healing with my new group of scholars, I am proud to say that I’m a third year in college studying Computer Engineering and well on my way to graduating and gaining full-time work. I am also proud to say that I now actively participate in homeless awareness and advocacy because of SHC. I am so moved today and feel so privileged to be given a platform for all those who are afraid to speak or simply can’t. We are just as worthy as any other student.

I have been working for months with a statewide coalition of youth, service providers, schools, and others to help develop a bill that would have made a difference for me, and will make a difference for others. HB 1577 / SB 1708 is that bill. I had someone to help me get a driver’s license, but most unaccompanied youth don’t. Without a car, I couldn’t get to work or to college. HB 1577 / SB 1708 will help other youth overcome that barrier to success. I also had support in college, but most unaccompanied youth don’t. HB 1577 / SB 1708 will provide that support to help youth get a college education, which I know is the key to a bright future.

If you believe homeless and unaccompanied youth should be able to get an education, access their own personal records, and be heard by someone who can help, then please vote for this bill.