American Bar Association hosts panel on youth homelessness in Kalispell

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Homeless kids and teens in Montana is a growing problem, but on Thursday lawyers listened to advocates and homeless youth to see how they can legally help.

The State Bar of Montana had its annual meeting in Kalispell at the Red Lion Hotel, but this year they took some time to listen to the American Bar Association’s Commission on Homelessness and Poverty about what legal issues arise for homeless teens and how they can help their community.

"We each have a role to play in reducing homelessness and poverty,” said Craig Baab, a chair with the American Bar Association Commission on Homelessness and Poverty. “Even an insurance defense lawyer can have a role to play in helping a homeless kid get a job for the first time."

Statistics from the Montana Office of Public Instruction showed 2017-2018 school year having about 4,100 students are homeless in Montana. That number’s up 500 from the previous year. Kalispell and Evergreen’s homeless education liaison, Nichole Heyer, said some of this increase is from more awareness.

"Being homeless and trying to navigate the educational system is already hard enough let alone when they run in to legal barriers," Heyer said. "These students that I work with have been dealt a bad hand in life and are truly trying to move forward."

Heyer told NBC Montana a lawyer could help them do that.

One teen spoke about wanting to be emancipated and claimed her family won't give her a settlement check she was supposed to get years ago.

"I'm not financially stable right now with money as I have to pay 700 dollars a month for an apartment that's not legally under my name because I can't legally sign a lease because I am not 18," said youth panelist Destiny.

The panel hopes to build a connection between homeless youth and lawyers to show that there is something they can do to help their communities far away from courtroom.

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