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Deborah De Santis Headshot

Blogging from a White House Committed to Ending Homelessness

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Today I had the honor of attending a bill signing ceremony transforming a major initiative that helps combat homelessness across our country. With the sweep of his pen, President Barack Obama has accomplished what many of us have been fighting for since the early part of this century: the re-invigoration of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act and a new focus on ending homelessness. This significant event was the culmination of Herculean efforts by organizations and advocates from around the country, and by some conscientious leaders on Capital Hill that found common ground and stuck with it. I am humbled knowing that CSH joined others who spent year after year fighting for legislation that will do so much to help so many people. They all deserve our praise.

The importance of McKinney-Vento cannot be underestimated. It has been the centerpiece of the federal government's efforts to end homelessness since 1987. Now, more than ever, with our economy in recession, Washington needs to show its commitment to caring for our vulnerable populations in ways that produce real results for those without a place to call home or proper medical care.

When first enacted, McKinney-Vento had some fifteen programs providing a spectrum of services to homeless people, including the Continuum of Care Programs: the Supportive Housing Program, the Shelter Plus Care Program, and the Single Room Occupancy Program, as well as the Emergency Shelter Grant Program. It also established the US Interagency Council on Homelessness and extended education rights to children of homeless families. Under McKinney-Vento, homeless children are assured transportation to and from school, with their choice of what school they want to attend, regardless of where their family resides. It further requires schools to register homeless children even if they lack normally required documents, such as immunization records or proof of residency. States are given funding to comply with the terms of McKinney-Vento.

McKinney-Vento has helped thousands of Americans free themselves from the despair of homelessness. But the original act needed improving and CSH and its partners have been working toward that end.

President Obama's swift action reauthorizing McKinney-Vento means billions more to help vulnerable people break the cycle of homelessness. But his support and approval does not throw more money at a problem simply with a hope and prayer. The President has assured fundamental changes in the systems and programs designed to help homeless persons, where innovation and accountability will mean lasting progress toward the goal of ending homelessness.

The new McKinney-Vento provides communities with better tools and resources at a time when they desperately need them. It increases prevention resources and changes the current Emergency Shelter Grants Program to the Emergency Solutions Grants (ESG) Program. It requires HUD to provide family rapid re-housing incentives so long-term stability becomes the emphasis. This re-authorization continues the chronic homelessness project and adds families with children, and it also designates 30 percent of total funds for permanent housing solutions for families and individuals with disabilities.

McKinney-Vento now incorporates an expanded and more realistic definition of who is homeless, streamlines the US Department of Housing and Urban Development's grant programs for the homeless, and improves homeless assistance in rural communities and gives them more flexibility.

Just as important, the re-authorization requires a much greater emphasis on performance so that states, communities and nonprofits aiming to help homeless people are measured not by their intentions, but by their results.

We can take pride in the quick response of this Congress and President Obama to the many pleas to reform and reauthorize McKinney-Vento. With rising foreclosures and unemployment, the attention and help from Washington comes in the nick of time. I am confident Senator Stewart B. McKinney and Congressman Bruce F. Vento would be pleased by the new, promising direction of their legacy.