Sen. Therese M. Terlaje with the co-sponsorship of Sen. Mary Torres, introduced Bill 159-35 to increase emergency shelter capacity, so that CPS can get children at risk of harm off the streets and into a home where they can sleep without fear of being raped by a drunken man, who enters their makeshift shelter, with no doors, in the jungle.
Terlaje’s efforts were prompted by the sexual assault of a four year old girl and a disabled girl who were living in an abandoned structure in the Dededo area back in April 2018.
A series of meetings and roundtables in the previous term, GPD, CPS, GHURA, GHC, the Guam Homeless Coalition, and others, repeatedly highlighted the shortage of shelter for children living in an environment of harm or potential harm. This shortage was an impediment to CPS, who by law, has the authority to remove children found to be living in an environment of harm or potential harm without a court order and place them in protective custody, pending further investigation and long term solution.
The bill would immediately increase the capacity of a brand new children’s group home being constructed beyond the current limit of 12 children, in order to urgently address the 35 children on the foster home wait list and some of the estimated 294 children living homeless.
According to Terlaje, discussions with BOSSA/DPHSS indicate that additional capacity for children’s’ shelter will be available as early as this summer, upon the expected completion of the $1.4 million federally funded DPHSS I Guma Mina’åse’ Sr. Mary Brigid Perez, R.S.M. The approximately 4,000 square foot facility, led by the efforts of the Rigalu Foundation and former First Lady Christine Calvo, can accommodate beyond the current maximum of 12 children under current law, rules and regulations. It is the intention of Bill 159-35 to authorize the Director of DPHSS the discretion to increase the capacity of this group child care facility or foster home to accommodate a greater number of children in need of emergency shelter.
DPHSS Director Linda DeNorcey has indicated her full support of the legislation’s intent to address the gaps in emergency shelters for children.
“No child should be subject to sexual or other abuse on Guam for lack of a safe shelter. It is our hope that this bill can be passed swiftly to immediately accommodate as many children as feasible in the facility, including temporary shelter of the 35 children on the waiting list for foster homes and those additional children who are currently homeless, who CPS determines are in need of immediate shelter. I commend BOSSA/DPHSS and the Rigalu Foundation for their vision and work in the completion of the facility, and stand ready to help expedite the placement of children as soon as possible, ” Terlaje said.