There are over one million homeless students today in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Education. They face challenges beyond the lack of stable housing including hunger, unmet health needs, and the increased risk of exploitation, violence, and trafficking. Yet the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) current definition of homelessness excludes most homeless children or youth: those staying in motels or temporarily with others because they have nowhere else to go. So they don’t get help.

Because they frequently move around with the families looking for couches, motels, and shelters to stay in, homeless children and youth are an often invisible population. But a new series called Trying to Live, Trying to Learn from the Denver Post gives homeless children and youth a voice. For 9-year-old Jaquan who shares single bedbug-infested motel room with his family of eight in Aurora, CO, his message is simple:  “I want to move.”

They aren’t found holding cardboard signs on the street or camping under bridges. Yet they are growing up with their belongings in plastic sacks, waiting on community volunteers who bring food and shampoo to motel parking lots, wondering how long until their family’s next move.” –Jennifer Brown, Denver Post

The bipartisan Homeless Children and Youth Act of 2014 would fix HUD’s definition to include homeless children and youth who have been verified as homeless by its own homeless assistance programs, other federal programs, and public school district homeless liaisons. It doesn’t cost taxpayers a single penny, and it includes no new mandates. The Homeless Children and Youth Act of 2014 will help over one million homeless children and youth lead safer, healthier lives and have a better chance for a brighter future. And it will help to ensure that the federal government’s response to homelessness is based on an honest and accurate understanding of the problem, and by empowering those closest to the problem to design and implement the best local response.

It is frustrating to advocates for homeless children that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development does not count kids living in other families’ living rooms or basements as being homeless, as the U.S. Department of Education does. In one Colorado school district, officials discovered three families sharing the same mobile home; some of the children were sleeping on the ground under the home, after they had boarded up the sides for warmth.

When families are not counted as homeless, they often don’t qualify for federal housing assistance.”  –Jennifer Brown, Denver Post

Read about the lives of homeless children and youth and the challenges policymakers and advocates face in providing help from the Denver Post, and more about the Homeless Children and Youth Act from our partners at the First Focus Campaign for Children.