Ashley Kuntz

Vanessa Paolella’s March 5 piece on Maine’s homeless teens strikingly illustrates how Maine too often fails to meet the needs of our homeless youth.

With the largest number of homeless youth in at least 10 years and increasing anti-LGBTQ rhetoric in both local and national conversations, Maine must change the laws and policies meant to serve our homeless youth.

Maine’s law requires a “comprehensive” program for homeless youth. While the services at Maine’s homeless youth shelters may be comprehensive, operating just four shelters in the state fails to extend these services to the large and growing number of youth who need them.

Youth in the most rural areas of the state must choose between traveling to shelters in urban areas or remaining with dangerously inadequate supports. Maine’s law should require shelter services in more areas of the state, with capacities proportional to the estimated number of homeless youth.

The state must also find a way to accommodate youth who have left abusive or neglectful homes without requiring adult consent for shelter services. Right now, teens who leave the care of parents or guardians are not forced to return, nor are they taken into the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services.

An unacceptable number of youth — often LGBTQ youth — are therefore left in a gap with far too few resources. EqualityMaine Executive Director Gia Drew’s observations about the increased danger to LGBTQ kids are a potent warning: Being young and LGBTQ is becoming more dangerous. LGBTQ children experience both homelessness and suicidal ideation at a significantly higher rate than their peers.


Suicide is the leading cause of death among LGBTQ youth. When caregivers are unwilling or unable to accept their child’s identity, support must be available and accessible outside the home.

Solutions may be found in other states’ laws. Several states allow teens to contract for shelter services and other necessities that allow them to live independently. Homeless youth in Missouri who lack financial support from a parent or guardian may contract for housing, buy a car, get student loans, open a bank account, and consent to shelter services.

These contracts require parental consent; however, parental consent may be implied: Forcing a teen from home, withholding financial support, or abusing or neglecting a child provides implied consent sufficient to allow teens to accept services.

Wyoming has a similar law but requires an affidavit signed by a teen and two adults who confirm that the minor understands the implications of any contract into which they may enter. California’s Family Code allows youth age 12 and older to consent to shelter services if they are mature enough to participate in the service, and if they face abuse, incest, or a danger of serious physical or mental harm without services.

Minnesota, Indiana, Hawaii and Colorado all have similar laws. If the words of Maine’s child protection statute remain true — that children’s safety is of paramount concern — the Legislature must do more to protect and support Maine’s homeless LGBTQ youth. Maine already allows all youth to consent to substance use and mental health treatment and allows youth living independently of parental support to consent to medical treatment.

Maine’s homeless teens are brave, self-aware and eager for independence. It’s time for the state’s laws and policies to better reflect teens’ capabilities and support their efforts to live independently.

Ashley Kuntz of Hollis is a third-year law student at the University of Maine School of Law.

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