OKLAHOMA CITY -- State Rep. Chelsey Branham has filed legislation that hopes to increase opportunity and improve the quality of life among Oklahoma’s homeless youth population.
House Bill 2927, authored by Branham, would create the “Unit for Runaway, Homeless and At-Risk Youth,” which would be a public-private partnership between the Oklahoma Department of Human Services and organizations working with Oklahoma’s homeless youth population. The legislation would also establish criteria that allow homeless youth to voluntarily seek assistance from the Oklahoma Department of Human Services.
“Last January, during the coldest time of the year, 85 metro youth had no place to live,” Branham said. “This legislation and the mission of this coalition speaks directly to the needs of those children. We have a duty as lawmakers to protect and speak up for our vulnerable citizens. This legislation hopes to begin a movement that ushers in a new way of thinking and new solutions to the problems facing our state’s homeless population.”
By offering an avenue to have DHS act as an administrative guardian, Branham’s legislation would make it easier for homeless youth to take part in regular activities like play sports, receive healthcare, and apply for a driver’s license.
“These young people still need the same things as other youth,” said Pivot President and CEO Jennifer Goodrich. “Birth certificates, social security cards, IDs, mental health and medical health services. Representative Branham’s willingness to address this issue has opened up new avenues of understanding of current statutes that provide allowances and identifying areas where work needs to be done. Statutes aren’t enough - it will take continued understanding, education and partnership to change the way things are currently responded to.”
Goodrich and Branham were joined at a press conference today announcing the legislation with Sisu Youth Executive Director Jamie Caves. Sisu Youth is the only 18 and under homeless youth shelter in Oklahoma
“Sisu Youth is thrilled to work with Representative Branham to bring forward legislation aimed at improving outcomes for youth experiencing homelessness,” said Sisu Youth Executive Director Jamie Caves. “This bill will encourage even greater communication between the Department of Human Services and service providers around our state, making it easier to obtain health care, housing, and identification on behalf of youth in the absence of a parent or guardian. We look forward to continuing collaboration and additional legislation that will assist in bettering the lives of this vulnerable population.”
In a statement released today, the Oklahoma Department of Human Services Director Justin Brown praised the coalition’s efforts and advocated for the legislation.
"This has truly been a collaborative effort between Rep. Branham, Sisu Youth Services, Pivot, former Oklahoma foster youth, David Hall, and OKDHS to meet the needs of this unique population of youth," said OKDHS Director Justin Brown. "These are youth who do not have the supports afforded in a typical family situation and they have also not been adjudicated deprived and brought into foster care. This legislation will meet these youth right where they are, giving them the support they need to thrive and build tools to help them successfully enter adulthood."