Health

A bill under consideration in the General Assembly would give more homeless youth in Kentucky access to mental health services. 

Under House Bill 213, unaccompanied children age 16 and older would not need permission from a parent or guardian for mental health services.  Rep. Joni Jenkins (D-Louisville) is sponsoring the bill and says it could help 3,000 young people in Kentucky. 

Coalition for the Homeless Director of Communications Catherine McGeeney says many homeless youth are unable to get guardians’ permission for much-needed mental health care.

“To experience homelessness is to live a life that is full of trauma,” McGeeney said. “Mental health counseling is a mandatory thing for unaccompanied youth, for youth who are experiencing homelessness, to help them to make it through this trauma and to come back more resilient and be able to find a way out of homelessness.”

McGeeney says poverty often causes homelessness, and the number of homeless youth in Louisville rose sharply between 2009 and 2015. Efforts to combat youth homelessness have since decreased those numbers.

Kiandra Hilliard says this bill would have helped her when she was homeless. Hilliard is now 23 and a member of the Coalition’s Youth Action Board.    She says having such a law would empower homeless youth who need help.

“It’s actually a big step to where young adults will be able to feel more comfortable receiving services,”  Hilliard said. “This bill could honestly help make young adults feel more comfortable to (get mental health care) by themselves and not feel pressured or have other people (surrounding them) that they do not want around.”

The bill passed the Kentucky House with a unanimous vote on January 28. It has been in a Senate committee since January 31.