Help homeless children and familiesYesterday, there was significant progress made towards assisting homeless children and youth by eliminating bureaucratic barriers to children receiving services.

The Senate unanimously approved Amendment #2087, offered by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Rob Portman (R-OH) to the Every Child Achieves Act (S. 1177), which would allow homeless student liaisons to certify that children are homeless and refer them to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for homeless assistance services.

1.3 million homeless children were identified by the Department of Education in the 2013-2014 school year, which is a 100 percent increase since the start of the recession (2006-2007 school year).

Many of these families with children and youth who are on their own often must stay temporarily with others or in rundown motels because there is no family or youth shelter in their community, shelters are full, or because shelter policies exclude them.

These hidden homeless children and youth face serious health and safety threats, including higher risk of physical and sexual abuse and trafficking. Many federal agencies, such as the Department of Education, recognize the vulnerability of children and youth living in these dangerous situations and acknowledge these children as homeless.

However, the definition of homelessness used by HUD excludes many of these hidden homeless children and youth, thereby creating barriers for them to access homeless assistance services such as transitional housing. Moreover, HUD’s regulations impose complex documentation requirements for those children and youth who do not meet its limited definition.

This amendment addresses some of these documentation challenges by providing training on the different federal definitions of homelessness and allows McKinney-Vento school district liaisons to certify a student and their family as homeless under the current definition used by HUD to qualify for homeless assistance services.

The amendment does not amend HUD’s definition of homelessness; however, it does cut through the paperwork and complex documentation that is currently required to prove homeless status under HUD’s regulations.

By helping to expedite referrals for housing and services, the amendment helps stabilize children and youth’s lives, and their education. It also will foster greater community collaboration among federal programs/agencies.

This amendment is a first step and signals momentum towards action to ensure that homeless children and youth get the critical assistance they need to transition to housing stability, and achieve educational success.

There have been many other significant steps to address this definitional barrier, including:

  • The continual increasing of support for the Homeless Children and Youth Act (S. 256/HR 576) which would amend HUD’s definition of homelessness to include these hidden homeless children and youth. There are now over 400 organizations nationwide that support this legislation
  • A recent Senate Appropriations Transportation-HUD Subcommittee hearing on youth homelessness, which included testimony from several witnesses about the problems caused by these documentation barriers.
  • Unprecedented language in the FY16 housing appropriations bill that takes significant steps to address youth homelessness. For more information, see resources from our colleagues at the National Network for Youth.

Let’s keep this momentum going. In order to support these efforts, please take action to support the Homeless Children and Youth Act.

.@SenFeinstein-@robportman Amendment is a Win for Homeless Children and Youth #HCYA v/ @First_Focus Voices for Kids
 Tweet this now.

Want to learn more? First Focus is a bipartisan advocacy organization dedicated to making children and families the priority in federal policy and budget decisions. Read more about our work on housing and homelessness.

Want to get involved? You can support our work by making a donation or joining our mailing list to receive updates and action alerts on this issue.