Sparky Harlan

Sparky Harlan

Sparky Harlan, Executive Director/CEO at Bill Wilson Center, is a nationally recognized advocate for youth in foster care and in the juvenile justice system, as well as homeless and runaway youth.

Posts by weblvds

Bridging the Gap for Disconnected Youth

The Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced on Dec. 18 a new initiative for addressing homeless young adults ages 18-24, usually referred to as “transition-age youth.” According to the NY Times, the Obama administration is focusing on this new and growing homeless population. While the recession hit all age groups, young adults were particularly hard hit with unemployment.

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Nonprofit Mergers Will Help the Homeless

Nonprofit agencies are expected to serve the public good, be mission-driven and operate like a business. We nonprofits need to be compassionate, yet focused on obtaining successful outcomes. To end homelessness, the direction is clear: Move the homeless into housing quickly and provide ongoing support services. However, emergency services are still needed for homeless individuals—a meal when someone is hungry, warm clothes and a bed during cold winter months.

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Sex Laws and the Election

Looks like Proposition 35 is already under fire after winning with a resounding 81 percent of the vote on election night. Prop. 35 increases penalties for human traffickers and requires those convicted of even a misdemeanor to report their Internet provider and user name to law enforcement. A judge blocked this part of the proposition after the ACLU and Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed a complaint.

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Juvenile Offenders Get a Second Chance

The last week of September was busy for Gov. Jerry Brown, as he signed and vetoed bill after bill. A bill that many justice advocates were watching was SB 9, called the Fair Sentencing for Youth Act and authored by San Francisco Senator Leland Yee. The bill carved out a narrow opportunity for certain adults who were convicted as juveniles—serving life sentences without the possibility of parole—to appeal for resentencing. The Governor signed the bill September 30. 

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Changing My Mind on Proposition 35

Last month, I wrote that I was supporting . But now, after speaking with others working in the field of preventing human trafficking, I have changed my mind. The polls on Proposition 35 show almost 90 percent of the people will vote for it. Who wouldn’t vote for a ballot measure that increases fines and penalties for human traffickers? Proposition 35 seeks to alter current state laws regarding human trafficking by expanding the definition and increasing the punishment for those convicted of human trafficking crimes. On the face that sounds like a great way to increase the penalties for terrible crimes against youth and adults forced into prostitution or slavery. However, the devil is in the details. 

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Beware: Schools Back in Session

Hold on to your wallets, kids! Ex’pression College for Digital Arts, a for-profit college, is opening up a new campus in San Jose in September 2012. According to the San Jose Business Journal, the school is leasing 65,000 square feet of office space in Ridder Park Technology Center in North San Jose. The group plans to spend $3 million to rehabilitate the space and will serve up to 550 students. Their main bay area campus, serving 650 students, is located in Emeryville.

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Thinking Big to End Homelessness

It was such an honor to be named a White House Champion of Change on July 12 for my work with homeless children and youth. After working with runaway and homeless youth for 40 years, 29 years of which have been in Santa Clara County, it is great to have such recognition. I’m now working on ways to use this honor to further the work in our area to end youth and family homelessness by 2020.

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More Nonprofits Should Consider Mergers

InnVision and Habitat for Humanity Silicon Valley recently announced that they are merging with similar organizations from other parts of the Bay Area. It is great to see nonprofits with similar missions merging to form stronger entities. Both had executives who were willing to look at the big picture, ensuring their respective nonprofits were able to continue serving the community. It makes sense for more nonprofits to seek opportunities to combine forces, especially when the CEO is leaving the organization.

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Foster Care Advocates March on City Hall

On Monday, I was invited to join a march to San Jose City Hall that was organized by the local chapter of the California Youth Connection (CYC). CYC is a youth-led organization that aims to develop leaders who will empower each other and their communities to transform the foster care system through legislative and policy change.

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‘Zombie’ Drug Poses Serious Health Risk

Apparently, the zombie apocalypse has started. At least, that was the word from my teenage son. If you have a teenager in the house, or you read the news, you likely heard about the 31-year-old man in Miami who chewed the face off of a homeless man and was fatally shot by police when he wouldn’t stop his attack. Authorities are speculating that the attacker was high on bath salts. This isn’t the stuff you soak with in the bathtub; bath salts are a relatively new synthetic drug, and are still legal in many states.

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Sierra LaMar Case Differs from Runaways

On Wednesday, I was interviewed by CBS News to discuss runaways. The day before, Sheriff Laurie Smith held a press conference to announce the arrest of a suspect in the kidnapping and murder of Morgan Hill teenager Sierra LaMar. During this press conference, Sheriff Smith stated that since January 2011, there were 43 reports of missing children (females) in Santa Clara County that were still open, and pondered, “You wonder if any of those were actually abductions also.” The sentence just hung in the air at the press conference, and no one asked her follow-up questions.

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A Better Approach to Runaways

The number of runaways in the United States has been widely debated, but a 10-year-old study by the Federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention estimated the number at 1.7 million. No matter the estimate, we know kids do run away, often due to violence in the home or family conflict. While on the streets, they are often prey to criminal activities, drug use, and sexual assault. So what can a police officer do when confronting a suspected underage runaway?

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How Police Profiling Can Go Wrong

In a recent civil case, a San Jose police officer was found liable for using excessive force on Danny Piña, who was misidentified as a gang member. Piña was wearing a red shirt and police stopped him for riding a bike with a missing headlamp. The jury found that the officer, Allan De La Cruz, used excessive force when he broke Piña’s nose and dislocated his shoulder. I have a 16-year-old son who had a similar experience of being misidentified by police, based on what he looks like and there being a gang presence in the neighborhood.