Congressional Hearing Reveals Barriers to HUD Homeless Assistance for Children, Youth, and Families

On June 6, the U.S. House of Representatives Financial Services Subcommittee on Housing and Insurance held a hearing to review the Homeless Children and Youth Act (H.R. 1511).

Witnesses included:

  • Barbara Duffield, Executive Director, SchoolHouse Connection
  • Kat Lilley, Deputy Executive Director, Family Promise of Colorado Springs
  • Millie Rounsville, Chief Executive Officer, Northwest Wisconsin Community Services Agency Inc. of Superior, WI
  • Steve Berg, Vice President of Programs and Policy, National Alliance to End Homelessness


Ms. Duffield, Ms. Lilley, and Ms. Rounsville testified in support of the Homeless Children and Youth Act. They described specific barriers created by HUD’s definition of homelessness, national priorities, and other policies. They also challenged assertions that family and youth homelessness is decreasing. Mr. Berg defended the current HUD homelessness system and argued against the bill.

Chairman Duffy opened the hearing by noting “As a father of eight, one that’s 18 and one that’s 2, and everywhere in between, I was touched by the testimony of one of our witnesses who discussed how she had gone through to support her six children while trying to navigate the definition of homelessness. It’s a testimony and a statement of strength. I believe her story, along with the testimony of others, will shine a light on why we need to address HUD’s definition of homelessness to make sure we are doing all we can to improve the plight of our impoverished families.”

Barbara Duffield’s testimony:


Duffield: “Make no mistake, the children and youth who meet education’s definition are every bit as vulnerable as those who meet HUD’s definition. And my written testimony documents the same poor academic, health, and mental health outcomes of all homeless students regardless of where they sleep. It also shows how frequently families and youth move between “education homeless” and “HUD homeless.” In fact, when I described this debate to a remarkable young woman who stayed in all sorts of homeless situations, her response to me was, ‘The open sky never made me bleed.’ Yet, homeless children and youth who don’t meet HUD’s definition are barred from even being assessed.”

Kat Lilley’s testimony:


Lilley: “Just three weeks ago, I was in a motel room with a family of five who had been living there for four months. I sat down on the bed and it was wet. It’s what the motel had for them. There were lice, there were cockroaches, there were bugs. The 3-year-old showed me her little bed on the floor. She had what she called a nest. There were blankets, there was a pillow and there were bugs. It was a horrendous situation. While we were sitting there and we were talking, there was a banging on the door. It was a neighbor in the motel room. He was upset that last night the baby had been crying, and was going to go talk to management to see if they can be put out of the motel although they had paid for this week. These are not situations children should be living in. These are not safe situations. And, contrary to what Mr. Berg tells you, this family is not eligible for COC services.”

Millie Rounsville’s testimony:


Rounsville: “In terms of the homeless information database, which is a requirement with HUD, our organization along with our family shelter, are the only two organizations that are entering data into that system. So if we’re looking at [homelessness] from a community level, what the homeless needs are of Northwest Wisconsin and the number’s going up and down, it is not reflective of 50 percent of our shelters, because they’re domestic violence; it’s not reflective of our faith-based partners that are providing services; and, as we’ve discussed earlier, it doesn’t include the number of homeless identified through our school districts and our Head Start agencies.”

Steve Berg’s testimony:


Berg: “This particular bill, the concerns we at Alliance have about this bill are mainly around eligibility rules for the Continuum of Care.”

In the question and answer period of the hearing, Members of the subcommittee asked witnesses for more information about their experiences and their views on the legislation.

Congressman Dave Trott’s questions:


In sum, the hearing revealed the urgent need for the changes in HUD homelessness policy included in the Homeless Children and Youth Act, and helped counter criticisms of the legislation. Watch the full hearing and read the written testimonies.

Now is the time to take action to advance the Homeless Children and Youth Act!

  1. Contact your U.S. Representative and urge him or her to co-sponsor H.R. 1511. (See sample letter)
  2. Contact your U.S. Senators and urge them to co-sponsor S. 611. (See sample letter)
  3. Add your organization to the list of supporters, here.

Learn more about the Homeless Children and Youth Act.

Take Action

Tell your U.S. Representative that all homeless children and youth need help,­ no matter where they happen to be staying. Take action here.

Add your organization or office to the list of Homeless Children and Youth Act supporters. Click here to become a supporter.

Listen to Youth

There is no better way to understand homelessness than listening to the children and youth who have been through it. Listen to what they have to say.

Get the Facts

The Homeless Children and Youth Act is bi-partisan legislation that would make it easier for local communities to help homeless children, youth, and families. Get the facts.

Featured Video

About the photos: Photos of children and youth experiencing homelessness provided by Diane Nilan, HEAR US Inc., used with permission. (c) 2012, Diane Nilan, HEAR US Inc.