When I worked as an outreach case manager in Los Angeles, nothing was more heartbreaking than when I would have to turn a homeless family away because U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development didn't feel the family was "homeless enough." Denying services to homeless families and unaccompanied homeless children and youth happens because HUD doesn't count them as actually being homeless. I literally have had to tell numerous families that paid for a hotel room the night before and ran out of money, they need to sleep in their car with their children or sleep outside on the ground before we can help them.
HUD's definition of homelessness does not include families living in weekly rate hotels or doubling up, nor does it include unaccompanied adults, children or youth who are living couch to couch. Often the condition of low-end hotels are unfit for kids. Today, I listened as Stephenie Van Housen, a school liaison from Iowa City, talked about the hotel where most of the families she works with are staying. She said the hotel is also home to seven registered sex offenders because offenders don't have any place else to live. This last year the hotel received 407 police calls.
In HUD's 2013 point-in-time survey, HUD counted 222,197 households that included at least one child as homeless. However, data from the Department of Education show that more than 1.2 million children nationwide are homeless. I would bet younger siblings who have not enrolled in school are under-represented in the data, so the number of homeless children is much higher. Basically, our government is saying over 900,000 homeless kids do not exist!
Sadly, we are seeing a drastic increase in school-aged children who are experiencing homelessness. But without being able to access federal services, families cannot get the support they need to get out of their horrible situations. Due to the narrow HUD definition, only one in 10 homeless children in California is eligible for federal housing programs. Ohio reported 23,748 children experienced homelessness last year, while HUD counted only 4,714 households that includes at least one child as homeless. Only one in five homeless children in Ohio is eligible for federal housing programs. That's just unacceptable!
WE CAN CHANGE THAT!
"No child should ever be without a home, let alone be forced to navigate bureaucratic red tape just to prove that they are actually homeless" ~ Rep. Steve Stivers
The Homeless Children and Youth Act has been re-introduced in the Senate by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and in the House by Rep. Steve Stivers (R-OH) and Rep. Dave Loebsack (D-IA). The bill will expand the definition of homelessness used by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The change would allow more than 1 million homeless children and families nationwide to access federal housing assistance programs.
We have an opportunity to help homeless families and homeless children in a tremendous way, and your involvement will make a world of difference. Contact your U.S. Senator and U.S. Representatives and ask them to support the Homeless Children and Youth Act. You can find more information including a link to take action on helphomelesskidsnow.org.
When I was first considering signing on to partner with the other activists supporting this bill, I asked a friend who runs programs for several homeless services his thoughts. I figured my friend would respond with a word of caution, but instead he said "right now we have seven children living in our homeless shelter HUD definition does not even recognize as being homeless".
I cannot stress how important this is and how much we need you to take action. Please share this post with all of your network and let's help over 900,000 homeless kids become visible!
Photo: Rega Photography