February 01, 2012

House Measure Addresses Plight of Homeless Children

A House Financial Services subcommittee took a step Feb. 7 toward improving housing assistance for homeless children and youth by approving legislation to harmonize the definition of homelessness among several federal agencies.

H.R. 32, the Homeless Children and Youth Act, approved by a voice vote of the Insurance, Housing and Community Opportunity Subcommittee, would build on provisions in the 2009 HEARTH Act, which expanded the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)  definition of “homelessness” under the McKinney-Vento Homelessness Assistance Act (McKinney-Vento). That act, however, did not extend to many children, youth and families who are classified as homeless for other federal programs. The new legislation would include those verified as homeless by school-district liaisons under the education subtitle of McKinney-Vento; Head Start programs; Runaway and Homeless Youth Act programs; and Early Intervention programs under the Individuals with Disabilities Educations Act, Part C.

ABA Governmental Affairs Director Thomas M. Susman, in a letter submitted for a Dec. 15 subcommittee hearing on the bill, applauded the new legislation as a welcome step further following enactment of the ABA-supported 2009 HEARTH Act. Susman noted that H.R. 32 “provides communities with the flexibility to serve and house families, children, and youth who are extremely vulnerable and in need of assistance.”

The HEARTH Act was the first step to harmonize the different definitions under McKinney-Vento, which serves as the major source of assistance to combat homelessness.

H.R. 32’s expanded definition of “homelessness” also would establish a referral process for homeless children and youth to gain access to HUD homeless services, addressing the current situation that prevents thousands of children from obtaining use of much needed resources.

Recent federal data indicates that 72 percent of the almost one million children and youth receiving assistance from their school district liaison are living in doubled-up homes, with another 5 percent living in motels. H.R. 32 would help alleviate some of the pressure of living in these far from ideal situations.

During the December hearing, chaired by bill sponsor Rep. Judy Biggert (R-Ill.), two panels spoke on the proposed new homelessness definition. The first panel was comprised of a group of children and youth who either are homeless or have been for much of their lives; the second panel consisted of federal and state agency spokespersons who gave insight into the discrepancies between their definitions of “homelessness.”

One witness at the hearing, Deputy Assistant Secretary Mark Johnston of the HUD Office of Special Needs, explained the need for a uniform definition of homelessness since “any child, much less many thousands of children, living on our streets is unacceptable” because “no child should be without a home.”

 

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