Homeless youth are no strangers to legal issues and the barriers they present. From access to housing and medical care to education, employment, and basic civil rights, legal issues can jeopardize the fundamental health, safety and wellbeing of these young people and sometimes even underlie the causes of youth homelessness. Without resources to navigate complicated and often overwhelming legal issues, homeless youth usually have nowhere to turn for help. And with nearly 60,000 students identified as homeless in Illinois last year, the need to find solutions to this problem is urgent.
That’s why attorneys from Baker & McKenzie partnered with United Airlines and the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless to create the Homeless Youth Handbook, an innovative guide to help homeless young people in Illinois better understand their legal rights and resources. Available online in a mobile-friendly format and in print, the Handbook’s 17 chapters provide comprehensive legal resources for fundamental needs like housing, public benefits, education and identification, as well as information for LGBTQ youth, pregnant and parenting youth and immigrant youth. In addition, the Handbook offers tools to address matters that might cause a young person to become homeless, including domestic violence, sexual exploitation, substance abuse and mental health issues.
“We know that when young people or those who are helping them have a question, immediate accessibility to a reliable, thoughtful and correct answer is important,” says Angela Vigil, firmwide Director of Pro Bono and Community Service for Baker & McKenzie. “That is why the handbook is a 24/7 resource on-line and accessible.”
Fifty attorneys from Baker and United in Chicago contributed over 1,100 to writing the Handbook, which was released on January 28. This is the third such publication Baker has co-authored in collaboration with corporations and local nonprofits. Previously, the firm partnered with Columbia Legal Services and the Starbucks Corporation to create a Homeless Youth Handbook for Washington, and with Ecolab Inc. and Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services to create a Minnesota edition of the Handbook.
“We are terrifically excited to have helped make this new resource happen together with our partners at United Airlines and the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless,” Angela says. “We were proud to combine the considerable talents of the in-house legal department of United Airlines, the expert team at the Law Project of the Chicago Coalition for the a Homeless and our own committed lawyers. The result is a new resource for Chicago youth to help them move from instability to success with legal insight and answers.”
The Illinois Homeless Youth Handbook is available online at http://homelessyouth.org/illinois.