11/18/2014 03:22 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Homeless Families Deprived Of Help Because They Don't Fit Strict Definition

As the director of the California Homeless Youth Project, Shahera Hyatt works to combat the growing number of homeless children in the state, but her experience with homelessness goes beyond just activism.

On the heels of a new state-by-state report that found the number of homeless children in the U.S. has risen to an all-time high, Hyatt joined HuffPost Live on Monday to detail her own personal struggle with poverty and homelessness, which characterized her adolescence starting in seventh grade, when her family was first evicted from their apartment.

"When we lost our apartment for the first time, we were able to cobble enough money together to get hotels and motels, because it’s relatively easy to get that $40 a night," she said. "But because we were living in poverty, we couldn't save enough money for [first and last month's rent,] security deposit, et cetera, and because we had multiple evictions on our record, it was difficult to get people to rent to us. So that meant that our homelessness persisted for a very long time."

Although Hyatt described her experience bouncing from from motel to motel as "incredibly traumatic," she said her family’s situation wouldn’t meet the criteria for homelessness for some federal agencies.

“Certain federal-level definitions don’t consider families homeless if they are able to pay for their hotel and motel,” she said. “That’s really problematic because that means that families aren’t eligible for some of the programs that could actually end their homelessness.”

In fact, Hyatt said her family didn’t use the term “homeless” either -- but for a very different reason.

“[My mom] would say we were in between houses,” she said. “And I think that part of that was because there is so much stigma and shame around homelessness. And also to protect us from having that stigmatizing label.”

Watch the full HuffPost Live conversation about the surging child homeless population here.

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