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By: Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services, Ecolab and Baker McKenzie

Home is more than a place, it is a feeling - a feeling of safety. But for too many Minnesota youth, that feeling is not a reality because they are homeless and without resources. Every night in Minnesota, it is estimated that 1,500 youth have no idea where they will sleep and may end up somewhere unsafe. It is hard to know the exact number as these young people are resourceful and creative in spite of their circumstances -- they find ways to stay with friends, couch surf and fly below the radar of the systems that are sometimes too overburdened to help them. The journey to this place is often just as frightening, as we know, so many youth who end up homeless have been physically abused, neglected, sexually abused, abandoned by parents and other caretakers, or unserved by the juvenile justice system. This results in many needs left unmet: health, emotional, education, and legal. The footprint of homelessness can be long-lasting in the form of chronic health conditions, significant mental illness, substance abuse disorders, traumatic brain injury, continuing unemployment, and many others. The tragedy can be at both ends as it is these conditions that often lead people into episodes of homelessness and homelessness often makes these conditions even worse.

Such a complex challenge demands the best thinking, study, creativity and advocacy the community can provide. This legal tool, Homeless Youth Handbook - Issues and Options is offered as a way to contribute to that goal. Focusing on a solution to the gap in legal service to this population of homeless youth, committed organizations have come together to try to create a resource to address the legal needs of these youth which can be critical to serving their other needs and restore them to safety. This Handbook is designed to serve, not only the youth themselves, but those dedicated community members who serve them and try to help them every day by giving them the legal information and insight youth need to realize their rights and set a successful course to safety.

Ecolab is a St. Paul-based global company committed to making the world cleaner, safer, and healthier through its core business efforts each day. Nowhere is Ecolab's tradition of service to the community more robust than in its commitment to have its legal personnel serve the community through their expertise, the law, just as Ecolab's scientists and other professionals do in the environmental sciences every day. This project gave the legal team at Ecolab the opportunity to do just that in the company of expert public interest lawyers from around the state of Minnesota in order to best serve Minnesota's most vulnerable youth.

Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services (SMRLS) serves this population day in and day out by providing access to justice through free legal services for the disadvantaged and underserved. Heroes in the public interest law community, SMRLS empowers those who, without legal advice and information, would be powerless. It is their commitment to narrowing the social justice gap which inspired this collaboration to create this Handbook for the homeless youth of Minnesota to help make sure there is a place where they can go for answers which can otherwise be difficult to find.

A special thanks to Children's Law Center of Minnesota which guided the creation of the Handbook to assure it is delivered to youth in a way that it can be used effectively.

The global law firm of Baker McKenzie shares this commitment to community with Ecolab and the public interest law leaders of Minnesota. Baker McKenzie engages in a robust pro bono and community service practice that inspires attorneys across the world to team with clients on important issues facing underserved and disadvantaged individuals, families and communities. Specifically, the Firm's efforts in advocacy for children and youth have engaged professionals in every corner of the globe to secure access to disrupt barriers to the rule of law, access to resources, and human rights for the world's youth populations.

We owe our deepest gratitude to the many professions and professionals who serve the homeless youth of Minnesota each and every day. We sincerely hope that this Handbook provides a valuable resource to Minnesota's youth and those who work, each day, to fight for justice for our homeless youth.

Jessie Nicholson 
Chief Executive Officer 
Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services

Jim Seifert
Executive Vice President, General Counsel & Secretary 

Dieter Schmitz 
Baker McKenzie