A new law aims to leave less young people on the streets unable to access social services.
Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law legislation (HB 1577) removing barriers on education and programs for homeless young people.
Rep. Marie Woodson, a Hollywood Democrat, sponsored the bill in the House while Sen. Ileana Garcia, a Miami Republican, carried in the Senate.
The measure will require the Department of Health to waive fees for certified birth certificate copies for unaccompanied homeless youths and young adults who remained in foster care when they turned 18.
It will also open access to college, university, technical school and other postsecondary education liaisons to students who experience homelessness, in addition to serving current or former foster children. The Department of Children and Families previously held the sole discretion to determine which state colleges and universities offer campus liaisons.
The new law will go into effect on July 1.
At that point, it will require School Boards to provide certified unaccompanied homeless youth with a card that contains information on the rights and benefits for these youth, and allow health care providers to accept the card as proof of the youth’s status as a certified unaccompanied homeless youth.
The Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability (OPPAGA) will evaluate the effectiveness of campus liaisons and of school districts’ delivery of benefits and services available under the federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act.
“As elected officials,” Garcia said during Session, “our responsibility is to make sure that we protect and nurture generations of people (so they) don’t spend their adult lives recovering from their childhoods.”
Florida law exempts students who are homeless from having to pay tuition and fees at state colleges and universities, though many other associated costs — including transportation, textbooks, housing and food — aren’t covered.
A 2019 report by the University of Florida Shimberg Center for Housing Studies and Miami Homes for All showed that between 2007 and 2015, the number of Florida students in pre-kindergarten through high school who experienced homelessness more than doubled to 72,601.
“It is critical we provide these resources for our vulnerable youth who are doing everything right in their power to forge a path forward to a better future. After many conversations with College and University Presidents, the Florida Department of Education, and the State University System, I learned just how widespread this issue is across the state,” Woodson said in a statement. “This new law provides youth exiting foster care and youth who experience homelessness with access to services and tools that can help alleviate some of the barriers and obstacles they face. I could not be more honored to work on passing this necessary legislation.”