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Legal Aid Among Services to Take On Youth Homelessness in MT


Monday, February 28, 2022   

A federal grant is helping Montana tackle homelessness among the state's young people.

The Treasure State was chosen as a rural recipient of a $3.4 million grant from the Youth Homelessness Demonstration Project, created by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Nichole Heyer is navigator of the project for Montana Legal Services Association. She said it's unique for a legal organization to be associated with the project - and important because legal services can be barriers to getting housed.

Heyer said working with a landlord, for instance, can be tough for young people.

"The power dynamics within the relationship of a landlord and a tenant are pretty skewed," said Heyer, "just given that this person decides whether you get to remain in their rental or not."

Heyer said young people don't always understand their legal rights or responsibilities when they enter a contract with a landlord.

The lack of responsiveness from landlords to habitability issues - such as water not working properly or leaks - is common, she said. Emancipation for people under the age of 18 so they can seek mental-health care is another common issue.

The effort also is getting input from young people with lived experiences. Brandon Anderson is part of the Youth Action Board and said it would have been nice to know resources existed for him and others on the board.

"We all struggled with homelessness when we were younger," said Anderson. "And none of us knew about any of the services that we could really find, because it just felt like we were forgotten. So we're just trying to make sure that we can help other people that are caught in a similar situation and make it a little bit easier."

Dani Mayeaux also is on the board. She said treating people who are struggling with homelessness with kindness is key.

"The most important thing is just realizing that they're still people," said Mayeaux. "They're not just homeless. They could be an artist, they could be a musician, they could be a chemist for all we know, and it's just when life gets tough we just have to be empathetic and supportive of people."

Heyer said housing advocates in the program provide a range of services to young adults as part of the program, including case management and work readiness.

"When you've got a team of people working from different angles to address these barriers," said Heyer, "that's when things really get done and we can get kids housed and keep them safe."

According to project data, a quarter of participants have exited to permanent housing.

Disclosure: Montana Legal Services Association contributes to our fund for reporting on Civil Rights, Human Rights/Racial Justice, Poverty Issues, Social Justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.

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