The Department of Housing and Urban Development has forced a national priority for chronically homeless adults and program models most appropriate for them, regardless of local needs. The result has been fewer services for, and less attention to, families and youth. The children and youth that HUD policy ignores today become the chronically homeless adults of tomorrow.
This week, the Homeless Children and Youth Act was reintroduced in the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives. This bi-partisan legislation would make it easier for local communities to help children, youth, and families experiencing homelessness, and help put an end to the cycle of homelessness.
The Homeless Children and Youth Act (HCYA) is sponsored by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Rob Portman (R-OH), and in the U.S. House of Representatives by Congressman Steve Stivers (R-Ohio) and Congressman Dave Loebsack (D-Iowa).
Child and youth homelessness is different than adult homelessness. Homeless families with children and unaccompanied youth stay wherever they can. They often are forced to move frequently between living situations such as motels, or staying temporarily with others, because there is no family or youth shelter in the community, shelters are full, or shelter policies exclude them. These children and youth face real harm, including negative emotional, educational, and health outcomes; they are at extremely high risk of physical and sexual abuse and trafficking.
Federal child and youth programs, including early childhood programs and public schools, recognize all of the forms of homelessness that children and youth experience, but the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) does not. Instead, HUD homeless assistance eligibility criteria exclude some of the most vulnerable homeless children and youth from accessing the programs and services that they need.
The HCYA would begin to return decision-making to local communities and protect vulnerable children and youth. It would allow communities to serve the homeless children, youth and families they identify as most in need of assistance, by aligning HUD Homeless Assistance eligibility criteria with other federal programs. HCYA would empower local communities to use resources most efficiently to prevent and end homelessness in both the short- and long-term.
The HCYA is a first start to returning local control to communities and end the one-sized-fits-all top down approach from HUD.