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Advocates Applaud Bipartisan Federal Legislation to Address Child and Youth Homelessness

March 27, 2017

The Homeless Children and Youth Act was reintroduced in Congress on March 14, signaling a commitment by policymakers to prioritize the well-being of more than 1.2 million homeless children and youth in the United States.

The bipartisan legislation is sponsored by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio), and in the U.S. House of Representatives by Congressman Steve Stivers (R-Ohio-15) and Congressman Dave Loebsack (D-Iowa-2nd) would re-tool federal homeless assistance delivered by HUD to allow communities to effectively use federal funding to meet the unique developmental needs of children, youth and families.

Specifically, it would allow communities to serve some of the most vulnerable homeless children, youth and families by aligning homeless assistance eligibility criteria with other federal programs, and by allowing communities to use available resources to provide housing and services tailored to the unique needs of each homeless population, according to local circumstances.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, there were record levels of child and youth homelessness in the 2014-2015 school year; there was a 34 percent increase since the recession ended in the summer of 2009. Homelessness among unaccompanied youth saw the most marked increase, increasing by 20 percent over three years to reach 95,032.

Homelessness is associated with an 87 percent increased likelihood of a youth dropping out of school and data from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey show that youth experiencing homelessness report significantly higher rates of victimization, hunger, PTSD, exposure to violence and suicidality than other students.

Child and youth homelessness is different than adult homelessness – homeless families with children and unaccompanied youth stay wherever they can and are often forced to move frequently between living situations. These situations often include motels, or with others temporarily, because there is no family or youth shelter in the community, shelters are full, or shelter policies exclude them. These situations are precarious, crowded, unstable and often unsafe, resulting in negative emotional and health outcomes for children and youth and putting them at risk of physical and sexual abuse and trafficking.

Child and youth serving systems, 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 the programs and services that they need.

In a statement First Focus Campaign for Children President and CEO Bruce Lesley said, “Children and youth who are homelessness for even a short time experience trauma and at greater risk for negative health and developmental outcomes. Yet many homeless children and youth remain invisible in their communities and have been ignored by federal homeless assistance. We urge the new Administration to support this bipartisan bill, which allow local communities to use federal homeless assistance to identify and serve their most vulnerable homeless children, youth and families living in precarious situations.”

In a statement Barbara Duffield, Executive Director for SchoolHouse Connection said, “For too long, HUD has forced a national priority for chronically homeless adults, regardless of local community needs. The result has been fewer services for, and less attention to, families and youth. By aligning HUD Homeless Assistance with child and youth serving systems, the legislation introduced today will help ensure that the homeless children and youth of today do not become the chronically homeless adults of tomorrow.”

“As a membership organization, we constantly hear from our youth service providers about the challenges their youth face in accessing the services and housing that they need,” said Darla Bardine, executive director of the National Network for Youth. “The Homeless Children and Youth Act will ensure that communities are able to provide developmentally-appropriate housing and services that youth need in a flexible way.”

“This legislation acknowledges what researchers, practitioners, and reasonable people throughout the U.S. have reported for years – HUD’s targeting of a one-size-fits-all solution simply doesn’t work,” stated Ruth White, Executive Director of the National Center on Housing and Child Welfare. “The Administration must capitalize on this bi-partisan approach to erase cumbersome regulations that constrain grass-roots efforts to end all kinds of homelessness in neighborhoods nationwide.”

In a statement Claas Ehlers, President of Family Promise said, “Our Affiliates have seen increased requests for assistance, and lengthened waitlists for housing and shelter. With a well-documented lack of affordable housing across the United States, communities would benefit from the opportunity to direct HUD resources locally, as needed. We ask that you support this piece of legislation, which would open the door for services to this neglected population.”

Source:  Office of Sen. Dianne Feinstein

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