One of the largest obstacles in the way of homeless youth — teens and young adults — everywhere is the lack of information. Youth often don’t know about the resources available to them, resulting in missed opportunities and a longer struggle.
To help bridge the gap between youth experiencing homelessness and much-needed legal advice, law firm Baker McKenzie has partnered with Disney and the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty to write the Homeless Youth Handbook for Washington, D.C., a mobile-friendly online resource.
Kee Cooper, a social worker and formerly a homeless youth in the District, said she wishes there had been a resource like this when she was struggling.
“The Homeless Youth Handbook meets youth where they are,” she said at a launch party for the D.C. handbook on October 23. She went on to state how important state-specific resources are, as no two places have exactly the same policies regarding homelessness issues.
The Homeless Youth Handbook provides information translated from legalese into plain English. It addresses issues such as the different laws that apply to youth when they turn 18 years old to LGBTQ+ rights. Search functionality and a word cloud in each chapter makes finding information easy.
Baker McKenzie is working with local service providers to make sure youth know about this handbook. Posters are going up in shelters and the law firm is working to produce paper copies that will be distributed to resource providers across D.C.
The first handbook was written in 2013 when Baker McKenzie partnered with Starbucks and Columbia Legal Services to write the Homeless Youth Handbook for Washington state. Since then, the law firm has partnered with multiple organizations across the country to write handbooks for youth in five states. There are three more handbooks on the way, and research has started on a handbook for homeless youth in Canada.
“It’s such an easy thing to convince people to do,” said Scott Justice, assistant chief counsel for the Walt Disney Company at the D.C. handbook launch party. This is Disney’s second partnership with Baker McKenzie. The media conglomerate also had a hand in writing the Florida Homeless Youth Handbook in early 2018.
The Washington, D.C. Homeless Youth Handbook is not complete. A few chapters have missing information and some are completely blank, with a message from Baker McKenzie asking for additional content suggestions. Those with suggestions can email them to [email protected]. Pro bono lawyers at Baker McKenzie plan to work with local resources to ensure that the handbook stays up to date and accurate.
“To end youth homelessness, we must be proactive, not reactive,” Cooper said.
You can find the Homeless Youth Handbook online at https://www.homelessyouth.org/us/washington-dc.