Governor Rick Scott signs a bill at a public forum on youth homelessness – and is called out by an angry protester

06/13/12 Liz McKibbon
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Governor Rick Scott and Representative Rich Glorioso discuss how a new law will affect homeless you in Florida

photo by Liz McKibbon

In downtown Tampa this morning Governor Rick Scott signed a bill to help homeless youth during a related public forum. Scott was greeted by a protester who accused the governor of being hypocritical.

For a variety of reasons, children under the age of 18 sometimes end up on their own, without a parent or guardian. But a new law signed today by Governor Rick Scott could help them by making it easier to be legally independent.

“In my experience in being governor for 17 months, is that this is an example of what you can get done in Florida. You have great elected officials both at the local and state level, and you can get the right laws passed. And congratulations to every body involved in this and now I’ll get to sign the bill.”

But then, a woman in a bright pink dress stood up from the crowd and confronted Governor Scott directly. Becky Rubright said while she had tremendous respect for the homeless youth organizations that planned the conference, Scott should not be proud of his record. The audience in the 268-seat theater at the Straz Center responded with both gasps and applause.

“I came to the Homeless Youth Forum today, because I heard that Rick Scott was going to be here and so I came specifically to tell him that I thought he should be ashamed of himself for standing here, I mean its great that he signed this bill for homeless youth, but our lawmakers didn’t even come up with it, high school students came up with it. And to do that in the face of having gutted funding for Florida rape crisis centers is a little disingenuous.”

The bill Scott signed was originally proposed by a student from Armwood High School in Seffner. The student was considered an unaccompanied youth, without access to his birth certificate or social security card. Without these documents or parental permission, youth are unable to obtain a drivers license, establish residency or apply for college. Rich Glorioso introduced the House version of the bill, which passed through both the Florida House and Senate unanimously earlier this year.

“In Hillsborough County we have a process called ‘There Ought to Be a Law,’ where our high school civic classes come up with ideas that should be a law in a state, and then Jack Latvala in the Senate and I file the bill and we let the bill go through and try to pass a bill.”

The group screened a documentary called Children of the Shadows. The short film featured stories of homeless youth living in the area.

“I was sleeping in abandoned apartments. I didn’t want to tell nobody, I was just living day by day. I lived actually on the side of the road. It was really scary cause you don’t know what to do, or where you’re gonna go. I didn’t really know what I was going to do ‘cause I just found out that I was pregnant.”

The youth featured in the documentary were invited to share their stories and answer questions from stage. Alexandra Williams came from an abusive home but later got help from an alternative school for runaways.

“I started running away around 16, and just one day I didn’t go back. I was living in the streets. I was basically on the streets until different guys picked me up and I would stay with different older men. And um, I thank God for Haven Poe, because they did bring me out of that. They weren’t willing to put be back there, they weren’t willing to put me back in my situation so I’m very grateful for that.”

Williams was sent to various group homes before meeting Kathy Wiggins of Lazydays Homeless Youth program, who helped her get on her feet and get into her own apartment. Williams wants to dedicate her life to starting her own group home and helping children who are in the same situation she was once in.

“I’m not in foster care, but I was homeless and I needed help. I want to provide that. I want to provide an opportunity for kids to be a kid and not have to grow up too fast, you know?”

Sean McCouggle was homeless on and off for three years, and supported himself by breaking into and robbing homes. He now works two jobs and attends Hillsborough Community College on a full scholarship. Lazydays also helped him find an apartment and he’s looking forward to being a new parent with his girlfriend Brittany, who is expecting a baby in August. McCouggle wants to be a marketing and business professional.

“I want to be the guy, when McDonald’s comes out with the new sandwich, are we going to market it as a healthy sandwich, low carb, or are we going to market as something big for people that don’t count calories, the big mushroom bacon cheddar burger.”

All of the youth are either looking for employment or working. Most say what they need most is transportation. Wheels of Success gave a car to McCouggle, to help him and his girlfriend get to and from work and school. Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin Beckner says the problem of youth homelessness needs to be addressed.

“Hillsborough County, last year, the largest group of crisis calls to the 1-800 runaway national hotline, were young people 17 years of age. The hotline received 6,038 calls from youth in Florida. As of May 8th, Hillsborough County public schools has identified 3500, listen to that number, 3500 homeless students in the school.”

The new law will go into effect on July 1.

Homeless Coalition of Hillsborough County

Wheels of Success

Connect to Protect Tampa Bay Coalition

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I was a guest at this gathering, having been present during the initial drafting of the bill a few months prior. The complete lack of genuine concern for the issue of Tampa's homeless population (least of all the homeless YOUTH) is laughable. I went out of a sort of moral obligation to the bill, having been homeless for a full year before gaining a strong footing and getting my own place and full-time employment, rather than the reluctant hospitality of my already-struggling friends. To see this man, who has seemed to DEDICATE himself to cutting programs for those in need while elevating the already pampered and disgustingly provided-for upper class, and have to shake his hand while staring hypocrisy directly in the face... Well, it was demoralizing, to say the least. Having been strutted around like cattle for almost half an hour before we greeted him in the boardroom, I had a chance to "speak" to those in attendance. All I seemed to find were oblivious housewives and public figures too concerned with shmoozing other high figures to actually take the time to learn the proper way to pronounce my name, let alone take ten minutes to show their apparent empathy. And as I stepped up to Glorioso, to accept my certificate for whatever-it-was-I-was-there-for, my name was mispronounced- I left after the publicity shoot. You can see me on stage, wanting to get the hell off as soon as possible.