“Everyone deserves the opportunity to have a place to call home and a fair shot at an education.”
I grew up the child of two former Jesuit Volunteers and attended my first protest in a stroller. My parents taught me to value social concerns. Of course, learning and doing are two different things. As I grew older and continued to develop my own critical lens, I became increasingly aware of my unearned privileges and felt gratitude for the equity concerns my parents instilled in me.
When I began my very own year as a Jesuit Volunteer with Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon’s (EMO) Public Policy team, I was lucky to inherit the duty of overseeing our housing portfolio. EMO serves among the leading advocates for unaccompanied houseless youth (UHY) in Oregon. These youth are not in the physical custody of a parent or guardian and are experiencing homelessness.
Unaccompanied houseless youth are a chronically overlooked population, and they highlight all-too-familiar equity questions. Over 50 percent are BIPOC youth and nearly 40 percent identify as LGBTQIA+.
The team at EMO’s Second Home program provides invaluable services connecting youth to host homes, where they access stable housing and nutrition, mentorship and other supports while focusing on their education. This year at the Oregon Legislature, EMO’s Public Policy worked to secure host home funding written into Oregon law.
At each step, we attribute our successes to partnerships with youth who are graduates or current students in Second Home. These youth met with legislators, gave testimony and even got a shoutout on the House floor from House Majority Leader Barbara Smith Warner.
Last school year, EMO’s Second Home assisted 50 unaccompanied houseless youth, providing 4,097 nights of housing
After multiple years and countless partnerships with organizations, individuals and legislators, we owe a debt of gratitude to everyone who helped make HB 2544 a reality. It takes a village! The bill more than doubles Oregon’s investment in services along a robust continuum for UHY. We estimate that over 1,500 youth will have access to services due to funding secured by HB 2544.
Fighting for the rights of other young people feels meaningful, especially since I know I had opportunities that many do not. From my days protesting in the stroller to conversations with Oregon legislators, one theme has remained consistent: Everyone deserves the opportunity to have a place to call home and a fair shot at an education.