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A Better Way to Count Homeless Youth and Families

The federal government’s “housing first,” approach has failed to end chronic homelessness today. In fact, their flawed economic logic may actually be sustaining chronic homelessness in the future. This downstream approach requires communities to maximize services for chronically homeless people, regardless of local circumstances, needs, and the potential to prevent chronic homelessness through other approaches. HUD needs to reexamine its policies, and realize that upstream approaches prevent future homelessness.

HR 1511, the Homeless Children and Youth Act, would amend HUD’s definition of homelessness to align with other federal agencies. What this would do is allow more families to qualify for HUD’s services. Communities would be able to properly serve homeless children, youth, and families they identify as most in need of assistance instead of being dictated to by the federal government.

According to Education Leads Home, more than 1.3 million homeless students K-12 have been identified in America’s public schools. Many of these young people are unsheltered with little or no access to the services they need to make a permanent transition off the streets, out of poverty, and into stable adulthood. Youth who experience homelessness are five times more likely than their peers to become homeless adults. Therefore, addressing this issue before it becomes a bigger, costlier problem is good public policy.

Currently, HUD does not even count most homeless children in their statistics because they exclude most children who are not living in shelters or on the streets. Their statistics allow the agency to claim it is making progress on reducing youth homelessness when the opposite is true. Even worse, HUD’s definition fails to help the more than 4 million youth in need of housing each year. Although there has been a supposed decrease in chronic homelessness, the direction of funds has not moved toward homeless families and youth. In fact, many of these programs have lost funding as a result of HUD’s emphasis on chronic homelessness.

The Homeless Children and Youth Act would provide a more accurate picture of the state of homelessness in the United States, and direct limited resources to those who are most in need. Eligible children and parents could be assessed for HUD services based on a variety of vulnerability measures.

Barbara Duffield, Executive Director of School House Connection, and supporter of the proposed bill states, “we agree funding should go to the most vulnerable, but we are saying our kids and families need to be assessed too.”

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