In 1994, HAP created a legal project to serve the needs of the growing number of children and families experiencing homelessness in Philadelphia. The Children, Youth, and Families Project resulted in specialized legal clinics at the City’s largest family shelters. These clinics were designed to address some of the most urgent legal needs of homeless children, including access to education services and federal disability benefits.
Subsequently, recognizing the inability of families experiencing homelessness to remove barriers to accessing stable and secure housing – such as issues relating to credit, utilities, benefits, and identification documents – HAP broadened its Children, Youth, and Families Project clinics to include legal assistance in these areas.
Due to demand, HAP expanded the Children, Youth, and Families Project mission to assist families seeking legal representation to resolve family law matters, particularly child custody disputes. Through the Children, Youth, and Families Project, HAP staff and pro bono attorneys provide legal help to keep families together in the face of numerous pressures that tend to break families apart when they become homeless. These attorneys also represent parents in their efforts to reunite with their children from whom they were separated due to homelessness caused by extreme poverty or disability.
In 2008, HAP began seeing an alarming increase in the number of very young parents and youth who became homeless after exiting the child welfare system. Thus in 2009, HAP expanded the Children, Youth, and Families Project’s reach to meet the needs of these young people, especially those suffering from disabilities caused by the trauma they experienced.
Youth transitioning out of foster care are a particularly vulnerable population with high risk for homelessness. Additionally, children and youth in foster care are more likely to have a physical or mental disability than other children and youth, which may make the transition out of the foster care system more difficult.
HAP augmented its roster of legal clinic locations to include sites where young people experiencing homelessness access services and supports, and expanded its SOAR Project in order to rapidly secure federal disability benefits for disabled youth prior to their aging out of the child welfare system so they could avert homelessness.
In view of its unique legal work and to better reflect its long-standing advocacy on behalf of homeless youth, HAP changed the name of the Children and Families Project to the Children, Youth, and Families Project.
For more information about this Project, please call 215-523-9595 or email HAP Staff Attorney Laura Kolb at [email protected].