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March 2015Vol. 16, No. 2Legal Handbooks for Homeless Youth

In an effort to empower youth to navigate the complexities of homelessness and equip them with the knowledge and tools necessary to improve their circumstances, three innovative State guides were recently developed as part of a pro bono project to help homeless youth better understand their legal rights. Homeless youth face a number of challenges that threaten their safety, stability, and path to self-sufficiency. The complex legal and social issues that often accompany homelessness cover a broad range of areas, such as foster care, family law, delinquency, domestic violence, mental health, and substance abuse. Limited knowledge about, access to, and availability of needed services to help this young population frequently compound these challenges.

The Homeless Youth Handbooks, specific to Minnesota, Washington, and Illinois, provide practical and accessible legal resources to homeless youth and the professionals and concerned community members dedicated to helping them. Each handbook offers information and assistance in the following topical areas: Options for Safety and Stability, Status Offenses, Foster Care, Turning 18, Housing and Contracts, LGBTQ, Education, Employment Law, Criminal Law, Health Care and Medical Rights, Mental Health and Substance Abuse, Pregnancy and Parenting, Domestic Violence and Sexual Exploitation, Identification, Public Benefits, Lawsuits, Consumer and Credit, Immigration, and Native American Youth. A glossary and links to additional useful resources are also included.

For example, the Housing and Contracts section of each handbook begins with the interactive question, "What are my housing options if I am homeless?" Information is then presented on various related topics such as trespassing/squatting, couch-surfing, public housing, shelters, renting a room or apartment, and other housing options. Most of the information is presented in a youth-friendly Q&A format (What is public housing? How do I know if I am eligible for public housing? How long can I stay?), and readers can select the topics and questions they are interested in exploring. and the related State-specific legal handbooks for homeless youth and youth-serving professionals are a pro bono project of Baker & McKenzie, a global law firm dedicated to serving and advocating for the legal rights of underserved and disadvantaged youth populations. The firm partnered with lawyers and legal staff from the following organizations to develop the homeless youth handbooks: Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services, Ecolab, Columbia Legal Services, Starbucks Law and Corporate Affairs Department, Law Project of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, and United Airlines Legal Department.

The handbooks are accessible at