Press Releases

Washington—Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) today introduced the Homeless Children and Youth Act, a bill that would amend the definition of homelessness used by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to verify eligibility for federal homeless assistance programs. In addition to Feinstein and Portman, the bill is cosponsored by Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.). 

The current discrepancy in federal agencies’ definitions of homelessness has resulted in just 1 out of 10 homeless children in California being recognized as eligible for federal homeless programs. Standardizing the definition across the government would allow children living in motels and staying with people other than their parents to be recognized by all federal agencies as homeless. This would make them eligible to receive assistance from programs like the Continuum of Care Program and facilitate cross-program collaboration. 

“Federal agencies use different definitions of homelessness to determine who is eligible for benefits, causing widespread confusion that leads to an inability of our most vulnerable populations to receive assistance, especially when youth homelessness is involved,” said Senator Feinstein. “Simply aligning the definition of homelessness used by federal agencies will remove significant barriers to obtaining critical assistance, while ensuring that homeless children can receive all the resources available to them. This is an easy fix that will have an outsized effect and I urge the Senate to consider it quickly.”

“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.”

Full text of the bill is available here.

Background:

  • During the 2018-19 school year, the Department of Education identified 271,528 homeless public school students in California, well over the total number of homeless Californians (including adults) identified by HUD. 
  • Only 1 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 that is used by other agencies. 
  • The Homeless Children and Youth Act would ensure local nonprofits have the flexibility to use federal funds to employ housing strategies that best meet their communities’ unique needs. For example, some communities have much higher rates of family homelessness than chronic homelessness among individuals. However, HUD has prioritized certain housing models, which restricts a community's eligibility for federal homeless assistance programs that do not necessarily address local needs.
  • 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.
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