ThinkstockPhotos-83066536“No child should ever be without a home, let alone be forced to navigate bureaucratic red tape just to prove that they are actually homeless” -Rep. Steve Stivers

Why Do We Need The Homeless Children and Youth Act of 2015?

The Homeless Children and Youth Act of 2015 (HCYA) (HR 576/S 276) was reintroduced in January by Congressman Steve Stivers (R-OH), Congressman Rodney Davis (R-IL), Congressman Dave Loebsack (D-IA) and Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Rob Portman (R-OH).

It redefines the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) definition of “homeless” as described in the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act. Currently, there are significant differences in how homelessness is defined by the U.S. Department of Education as compared with the Department of Housing and Urban Development. However, only when individuals are considered to be homeless by the HUD standards, are they are eligible for Homeless Assistance Grant programs.

Right now, many homeless families and youth are not considered to be homeless because they are “doubled up” with other family members or friends or living in one-bedroom motels. It is difficult for homeless families to find steady housing in shelters when there is limited space and time restrictions mandating how long they can stay. While these conditions qualify as homeless under the Department of Education’s standards, these families are often not considered homeless by HUD’s definition. In order to qualify for HUD housing benefits such as permanent supportive housing or rapid rehousing programs, families must be living on the street or in shelters. Furthermore, homeless housing programs funded by HUD often focus on the chronically homeless population to the exclusion of homeless youth and families.

How Does It Work?

This bipartisan legislation contains no new mandates and does not cost anything. Rather, HCYA amends HUD’s grant awards process and allows local service providers to decide who is in the most need and where to allocate funding within their community. By allowing communities to decide the best ways to serve their homeless population, federally imposed priorities are limited and federal restrictions are eliminated, allowing funds to be allocated in smarter ways.

How Does This Change The Lives of Homeless Children and Youth?

Moving homeless youth into stable housing situations will improve their lives in several ways. Stable living situations will greatly reduce their probability of becoming victims of human trafficking. Traffickers tend to lure in the most vulnerable members of society, including homeless children and youth. Since these children are simply looking for a place to sleep, they will look past the trustworthiness of an individual for shelter.  Additionally, children living in permanent housing are much more equipped to succeed in school, maintain good physical and mental heath, and avoid violent events and abuse.

What Impact Will This Have On The Future of Homelessness?

Lastly, homelessness data will be forever changed. HCYA will require HUD to include data on homeless populations from other federal programs, for example, the Department of Education, when it reports annually to Congress. Reports to Congress are made public, so public awareness of homeless families and youth will increase exponentially and most importantly, open up pathways to other sources of funding outside of the government from private donors and organizations. Not only will HCYA improve the lives of millions of homeless families and youth starting with its implementation, but also will prevent future generations of chronically homeless adults.

Additional Sources:

Stivers Re-introduces Bill to Help Homeless Children and Youth press release

Homeless Children and Youth Act of 2015 fact sheet

Falling through the Gaps: Homeless Children and Youth fact sheet

When Trafficking Knocks, Congress Must Answer blog post

Why we need the Homeless Children and Youth Act >> via @Campaign4Kids Voices for Kids blog #InvestInKids #HCYA
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Want to learn more? First Focus Campaign for Children is a bipartisan advocacy organization advocating to make children and families the priority in federal policy and budget decisions. Learn more about our work on housing and homelessness.

Want to get involved? You can support our work on the Homeless Children and Youth Act by making a donation, joining our mailing list to receive updates and action alerts on these issues, or taking action right now at our Homeless Children and Youth Act Action Center.