Homeless Children and Youth Act to Close Gaps in HUD Services

Housing & Homelessness

According to the U.S. Department of Education, over 1.1 million children are currently experiencing homelessness across the country. These children come from a diverse range of communities, but all face difficulties including hunger, health problems, and the risk of exploitation and violence.

However, under the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) current definition of homelessness, many of these children do not qualify for much-needed housing and other wraparound services. Fortunately, leaders in both the House and Senate are taking action by addressing the shortcomings of the HUD definition to ensure that all homeless children receive the necessary supports from HUD-funded programs.

The Homeless Children and Youth Act (H.R. 5186/S. 2653); introduced today by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Rob Portman (R-OH), and Mark Begich (D-Alaska), along with Representatives Steve Stivers (R-OH) and George Miller (D-CA); will make several changes to the HUD definition and grant awards process in an effort to improve flexibility and efficiency. The bill will lead to a number of positive outcomes for children and contains no new mandates or costs. With housing assistance from HUD, homeless children will no longer face the threat of trafficking and domestic violence that can develop from an unstable living situation. These children will also receive food and medical assistance that can mitigate potential negative mental and physical health developments that often coincide with homelessness.

Many homeless children will benefit from the bill’s change to the HUD Homeless Assistance Programs guidelines, with unaccompanied youth and families lacking a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence. This includes those temporarily sharing the housing of others due to loss of housing, economic hardship, or a similar reason, or staying in a hotel or motel now eligible for services. The proposed legislation also provides HUD-funded assistance to individuals or families losing their housing within 30 days, up from the current 14-day provision, and eliminates burdensome documentation requirements for multiple moves and length of time homeless, both of which have been barriers to services for homeless children and families in the past.

The bi-partisan bill will identify eligible children through unaccompanied youth and families who are certified as homeless under the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act, the Violence Against Women Act, the Health Care for the Homeless program, the Education for Homeless Children and Youth program, the Higher Education Act, the Head Start Act, and the Child Nutrition Act. This change will provide a more consistent definition of homelessness across government programs.

HUD currently forces communities to prioritize single adults when seeking homelessness funding, even if the need is greater for families and youth in the area. Under the Homeless Children and Youth Act, HUD will no longer be able to override the local service providers that are best equipped to determine the services their homeless populations need and where federal resources should be best targeted. The bill also gives these local providers the ability to quickly determine if a family is eligible for services by eliminating complex documentation that require families to “prove” their homelessness.

Homeless children face the same struggles as their adult peers, but under current HUD definitions, many of the 1.1 million children faced with homelessness go without the services they need.

Thanks to the work of Senators Feinstein, Portman, and Begich, as well as Representatives Stivers and Miller, these 1.1 million Americans will no longer be restricted form accessing HUD-funded assistance simply because they are children. By expanding the HUD definition of homelessness and giving more flexibility to local service providers, the Homeless Children and Youth Act will lessen the hardship of homelessness for children in communities across the United States.