Mar 14 2017
Washington—Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) today introduced the Homeless Children and Youth Act to amend the definition of homelessness used by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Representatives Steve Stivers (R-Ohio) and Dave Loebsack (D-Iowa) introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives.
The amended definition would simply align the HUD definition of homelessness, used to verify eligibility for homeless assistance programs, with the definition used by public schools and to verify eligibility for other federal assistance programs like the National School Lunch Program and Head Start.
Aligning the definition used by HUD with other federal agencies would reduce widespread confusion about eligibility for federal homeless programs. Specifically, children living in motels and doubled-up in households with acquaintances would be universally recognized as homeless.
“The harmful effects of homelessness on children’s educational and emotional development are clear. Ensuring children have a permanent roof over their heads will have a long-term benefit on their lives and our country’s future,” said Senator Feinstein. “Current federal policy creates significant barriers that prevent our most vulnerable children and families from accessing housing assistance and the support services they need to escape homelessness. Our bill would fix that.”
“Homelessness makes a child more vulnerable to illness and to crime, including human trafficking,” said Senator Portman. “The effects of homelessness on a child can last a lifetime. It is in all of our interests to ensure that vulnerable kids get a roof over their heads in a safe and stable environment. Our common-sense reforms will help do just that and make a difference in the lives of thousands of kids across our country.”
“No child should ever be without a home, let alone be forced to navigate bureaucratic red tape just to prove that they are actually homeless,” said Congressman Stivers. “This bill will be a first step in identifying the scope of the youth homelessness issue so we can help some of the most vulnerable in our communities.”
“As someone who was raised in poverty by a single mother who struggled with mental illness, I have seen firsthand how community supports can make a difference in people’s lives. I am also sadly aware that some children may slip through the cracks and we cannot allow that to happen,” said Congressman Loebsack. “In order for our children to excel, especially those who are homeless or have nowhere to go, we must make it easier on them to access homeless assistance programs. The Homeless Children and Youth Act will help communities best provide for those who are most in need.”
In its 2015 nationwide survey, HUD counted 206,286 people in families with children that experienced homelessness. However, data from the Department of Education indicated that during the 2014-2015 school year there were approximately 1.2 million homeless students nationwide.
In California, more than 229,000 children experienced homelessness last year, while HUD counted only 22,582 households that included at least one child as homeless. Only one in 10 homeless children in California is recognized as eligible for federal homeless assistance programs because of the discrepancy between HUD’s definition of homelessness and the definition used by other agencies.
The Homeless Children and Youth Act would ensure local nonprofits have flexibility to use federal funds to meet their communities’ needs. For example, some communities have much higher rates of family homelessness than chronic homelessness among individuals. The bill would also require local governments and nonprofits that receive HUD funding to connect homeless children and families to education, child care, mental health and employment services.