This story originally appeared on the Miami Herald. Roxana Rodriguez-Monzon is a student at Florida International University studying public policy and service, a legislative aid with SchoolHouse Connection and a student temporary employee with non-profit Miami Homes for All.
Homelessness can be physically and emotionally devastating for a young person. I know, because I experienced homelessness. I also know that Senate Bill 1708/House Bill 1577, currently pending in Tallahassee, would help youth get out of homelessness by helping them work, study and achieve independence.
There are almost 7,000 youth in Florida who are experiencing homelessness completely on their own — they are estranged from their parents, usually due to parental substance abuse, mental illness, death or rejection. These young people are at high risk for victimization, and are more likely than other youth to be assaulted and trafficked, to attempt suicide and to drop out of school.
To look into how public policy helps, I co-led a statewide coalition that launched surveys of youth and other stakeholders across Florida. After months of meetings, discussion and strategizing about what would truly help homeless youth, we landed on the policies in SB 1708/HB 1577: helping youth experiencing homelessness get driver’s licenses and car insurance; connect to resources in college; and learn about their rights and how to access them.
LICENSE IS FREEDOM
I know from my experience that these policies will help. Transportation in college is crucial for students who want to excel in their studies and build the extracurricular experience that will launch us onto strong career paths. Without it, students like myself have to give up on jobs, internships and even community service opportunities. Many students want to do more than just go to class and their dorms. They want to be able to start being self-sufficient. For some, their driver’s license is their freedom card. Yet, so many don’t even know where to start, and most likely don’t have someone to guide them through this process.
Some might think that youth experiencing homelessness don’t want to work and don’t care about education. That could not be further from the truth. Due to lack of transportation, I knew my only option was to work on campus, but I wanted something that would help build my resume and that correlated with my major or career pathway. I was able to find a position with the Office of Social Justice and Inclusion on campus, but opportunities to intern for attorneys, clerk at my nearest courthouse or even intern for state representatives are offers I can never accept because my commute on public transit would take too long and probably make me tardy. Having to multitask my school schedule, intern schedule and the public bus schedule is very complicated.
There’s more to college than the classes. It’s also about gaining experience in your field, networking and finding mentorship through professional experiences. Unaccompanied youth need that more than other youth, as they have little-to-no personal support system, much less a professional one, and there are currently so many barriers to access that kind of professional support. SB 1708/HB 1577 are a first step in helping to remove those barriers, and give youth experiencing homelessness additional opportunities to excel.
Most youth on their own feel the same way as I do, knowing that work and school are the keys to our independence. Sometimes we get physically and mentally exhausted trying to live as adults and take care of ourselves at such a young age. We need our lawmakers to help. We aren’t asking for much — just a few simple changes to make it easier for us to get to our jobs, graduate from college and never experience homelessness again.
You can help, too. Ask your state senator and representative to vote yes on SB 1708/HB 1577. Call or email them today. Together, we can help 7,000 youth achieve our own independence.