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Event Highlights Need for Simmons’ Bill that Helps Homeless Youngsters
8/8/2014
ALLENTOWN – State Rep. Justin Simmons (R-Lehigh/Northampton) was joined by Lehigh Valley advocates, along with academic and medical experts, at a news conference in Allentown to call for immediate action on behalf of thousands of homeless children in Pennsylvania.

Simmons is the prime sponsor of legislation that would expand the criteria for providing state early intervention services for homeless children under the age of 3. House Bill 2204 was passed unanimously by the House of Representatives in June and is currently under consideration in the Senate.

“These are our children and they need our help now,” said Simmons. “These babies are born into a situation that places them at a dangerous disadvantage from the start. They did not choose to be homeless. My legislation would remove barriers to help the families of these children get the assistance and resources they need to ensure a brighter future. It is simply the right thing to do.”

Each year in Pennsylvania, an estimated 6,000 young children are considered to be homeless. Some live in shelters, others are in temporary housing, or they move from place to place with a single mother. Simmons’ legislation would qualify homeless infants and toddlers for tracking that allows them to receive critical early intervention services from the Commonwealth.

“Pennsylvania babies are being born into homelessness every day,” said Dr. Patricia Manz, an associate professor and program director at Lehigh University’s School of Psychology. “The research is clear and indisputable – a child’s development during the first three years of life is most rapid, forming a stable trajectory for ongoing development and success in school and later years. Early intervention will enable a baby’s development and health to be monitored before concerns evolve into serious problems that are more challenging to remediate.”

“Trauma and poverty impact infants in unique ways, making young children vulnerable to low learning capacities, maladaptive behaviors and the potential of lifelong physical and mental health problems,” said Suzanne Yunghans, executive director of the Pennsylvania Chapter of the Academy of Pediatrics. “Homeless infants experience significant trauma at a high-risk period in their lives and one of the best prescriptions we can offer these babies is a healthy dose of early intervention services. Investing in early brain development is less expensive and has better outcomes than the cost to society of children who have not met their potential.” 
 
Prior to the media event, Simmons toured Valley Youth House, a residential program for homeless youth, and met with mothers, children and providers of services.

“Being a single mom is tough. Finding yourself without a home and raising a baby is nearly impossible,” said Janissa Sanchez, a mother of a toddler and a graduate of the Valley Youth House “Great Beginnings” program. “Like all moms, I want the best for my baby and getting her physical, intellectual and nutritional help is one of the most important things I can do for her. With help from Valley Youth House, I was able to get nutritional counseling and help with my parenting skills. I also learned about developmental stages so I could tell if my baby was developing normally.”

Simmons and other speakers called on the Senate to pass the legislation when it reconvenes in September.

“This is an urgent need that demands our immediate action on behalf of our homeless babies,” said Kevin Jenkins, vice president of the Pittsburgh Foundation, a co-founder of the Campaign for What Works, which is the lead advocacy organization for the legislation. “We must act now.”

For more information on Simmons and his legislative priorities, visit RepSimmons.com or Facebook.com/RepSimmons.

Representative Justin Simmons
131st District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives

Media Contact: Andy Briggs
717.260.6474
abriggs@pahousegop.com  
RepSimmons.com / Facebook.com/RepSimmons
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