South Carolina is on the lower end of people experiencing homelessness. (Graphics courtesy of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Planning)
South Carolina lawmakers are moving forward with Senate bill 342, which would redefine homeless and unaccompanied youth in the state.
The bill aims to classify homeless or unaccompanied children from birth to the age of 24.
It passed the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday and now is headed to the House of Representatives.
There is no single definition for homeless youth in South Carolina, making it difficult to determine who qualifies for possible federal aid. It also makes it difficult to see what improvements need to be made to ensure future success.
Derek Phillips, director of public information for the S.C. Department of Education, said it’s important to have clear definitions when receiving federal government funds.
“It’s important to make sure that those students are properly identified and correctly identified, so, one, the funding is being given correctly,” Phillips said. “And two, we’re just keeping track of all students out there that are especially the ones that are at risk.”
A 2020-2021 study by the state Department of Education found there are nearly 12,000 children experiencing homelessness who are enrolled in South Carolina schools.
The National Conference of State Legislatures said in an article last month that it is difficult to determine youth homeless numbers because of “varying definitions of homelessness.”
According to a study by the National Alliance to End Homelessness, on a single night in 2022, 91% of homeless youth were between the ages of 18 and 24.
Palmetto Place is a Columbia nonprofit whose mission is to offer a safe and supportive place to children and youth experiencing homelessness, abuse, abandonment, and more.
“With this bill and with other pushes in legislation, we’re able to get these youth who are at risk housed before they even have to experience homelessness,” said Courtney Tidwell, Palmetto Place community outreach coordinator in an interview with WLTX-TV news.
Having a clear count of young adults experiencing homelessness might allow for more need-directed programs, state officials said.