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By: Texas Appleseed, Weatherford International and Baker McKenzie

Picture someone who is homeless. Take a moment and close your eyes so that individual comes clearly into focus. What do you see? Do you picture a gray-haired former soldier and his dog? Or a woman with a cardboard sign on the side of a highway? What about a child?

Odds are, you probably did not think of a 16-year-old high schooler, sleeping in a tent with a friend. You may not have considered that this teenager is unable to participate in after-school sports because she does not know how to get a physical without parental consent.

It’s likely that you also did not envision a former foster youth, now 20 years old, who has been completely disconnected from his family and is sleeping in his car instead of a shelter because the car is safer.

Vulnerable youth like these make up a surprising portion of the Texas population. According to the Texas Education Agency, 113,294 students in Texas experienced homelessness at some point during the 2014-2015 school year. That number does not include children who are enrolled in school but are hiding the fact that they are homeless, children who should be enrolled but are not (and thus are “invisible” for purposes of this statistic), or youth age 18 to 24 who are learning how to survive as adults with little to no financial or familial support. In fact, it is nearly impossible to count how many homeless youth live in Texas, in large part because these youth are resourceful, transient, and often stay out of sight to avoid situations where they might be exploited due to their youth, situation, and perceived lack of authority.

Despite this statistic, we have a goal: to let the homeless youth of Texas know that they can have authority over their lives. That even if housing, food, transportation, education, or clean clothes are not always easily within reach, there are options for them and people who are seeking to simplify access to these necessities every day. That they too have the right to access to justice just like every other Texan in this state.

The Texas Homeless Youth Handbook is one way to provide youth with the legal information they need to restore their safety and security, and to begin to help them not only survive, but prosper. Legal issues surrounding youth who are experiencing homelessness are extensive and diverse. Consequently, this Handbook discusses everything from housing and employment to domestic violence and foster care. It informs that 16-year-old how she can get her physical so she is allowed to play volleyball and that 20-year-old where he might find a transitional living program closest to where he is currently parked. The Homeless Youth Handbook is designed to serve not only youth themselves, but those dedicated to serving them, whether in a professional or informal capacity.

The Handbook was developed through the collaborative partnership of Baker McKenzie, Weatherford International, and Texas Appleseed. The global law firm of Baker McKenzie engages in a robust pro bono practice that inspires attorneys across the world to donate pro bono legal services on important issues facing underserved and disadvantaged individuals, families, and communities. Weatherford, one of the largest multinational oilfield services companies, recognizes the need to serve the communities in which it operates. Texas Appleseed is a public interest justice center that works to change unjust laws and policies that prevent Texans from realizing their full potential.

We owe our deepest gratitude to the many organizations and professionals who serve the homeless youth of Texas each and every day. Many of these same organizations and individuals contributed to the creation of this Handbook by sharing their knowledge, and we are immeasurably grateful for that as well. We sincerely hope that this Handbook serves as a valuable resource to our state’s youth and to those social workers, counselors, teachers, homeless liaisons, police officers, health care professionals, and many others who provide daily support in the fight for justice for our homeless youth.

Christina Ibrahim
Executive Vice President, General Counsel & Corporate Secretary

Natalia G. Shehadeh
Vice President & Chief Compliance Officer

Gabriella C. McDonald
Pro Bono & New Projects Director
Texas Appleseed

Jonathan Newton
Managing Partner, Houston Office
Baker McKenzie