Washington—Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) today introduced the Homeless Children and Youth Act, a bill to expand the definition of homelessness used by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The change would allow more than 1 million homeless children and families nationwide to access federal housing assistance programs.
In its 2013 point-in-time survey, HUD counted 222,197 households that included at least one child as homeless. However, data from the Department of Education show that more than 1.2 million children nationwide are homeless.
The expanded HUD definition would mirror the definition used by the Department of Education and other federal agencies.
In California, 259,656 children experienced homelessness last year, while HUD counted only 25,094 households that included at least one child as homeless. Due to the narrow HUD definition, only one in 10 homeless children in California is eligible for federal housing programs.
In Ohio, 23,748 children experienced homelessness last year, while HUD counted only 4,714 households that includes at least one child as homeless. Due to the narrow HUD definition, only one in five homeless children in Ohio is eligible for federal housing programs.
“Only one in 10 homeless children in this country is eligible for federal housing assistance, and that’s shameful. Under the narrow HUD definition, even children living with traffickers because they have nowhere else to go would be ineligible for help,” said Senator Feinstein. “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 nation’s future.”
“Persistent poverty robs children of the security and stability they deserve,” stated Senator Portman. “Our commonsense reforms will open up access to federal assistance programs for thousands of homeless children and youth. Washington has to ensure that it is playing the right role in helping these vulnerable children, and this bill is a step in the right direction.”
By expanding the definition of homelessness, the bill would make vulnerable children living in precarious situations eligible for federal homeless assistance programs.
Specifically, children living in motels and doubled-up in households with acquaintances would be recognized as homeless. Children living in these situations are particularly vulnerable to predators because they are hidden to social service providers and do not have case managers.
In addition, the Homeless Children and Youth Act would allow children currently forced to live with traffickers in exchange for sex to become eligible for federal housing assistance.
The bill would also allow local communities to make decisions and set priorities according to their own needs. Currently, communities and nonprofits seeking to prioritize services for homeless children and families have been less competitive when applying for HUD funding.
The Homeless Children and Youth Act is supported by National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth, National Network for Youth, First Focus Campaign for Children, National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty and the National Center on Housing and Child Welfare.