1. Many homeless children and youth are suffering out of public sight – and they need help now.
Many homeless families and unaccompanied youth have no choice but to stay in motels or temporarily with other people. Parents with children fear that if the family sleeps on the street, they will lose custody of their children, so they seek any living situation that might keep their families intact. Youth who are homeless on their own – unaccompanied youth – often try to stay “under the radar,” so they are invisible to child welfare and other authorities. Many homeless families with children and unaccompanied youth are forced into motels or other temporary situations because there is no family or youth shelter available in the community, shelters are full, some shelters have policies that separate the family, or shelters prohibit unaccompanied minors.
These hidden homeless situations hurt children and youth. In fact, children and youth are usually in more danger in motels, and when staying with others, than they are when they are staying in shelters. The temporary roofs over their heads do not protect these children and youth from instability, physical abuse, health problems, mental health problems, hunger, and educational deficits – they just make them invisible to the public eye. These vulnerable children and youth need help now.
2. Today, complex regulations deny homeless children and youth the help they need.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development operates under complex regulations that make it virtually impossible for most homeless children and youth who are staying in motels and paying for the motel room, or staying with others because they have nowhere else to go, to qualify for HUD Homeless Assistance programs.
For example, HUD’s rules require “proof” that the owner or renter of the place where a family or youth is staying will only allow them to stay for 14 days or less. This regulation jeopardizes the housing of the owner or renter if a lease is being violated, and ignores the fragile and tense relations between the homeless youth or family and the owner or renter. In other situations, a family or youth must have been without housing for 60 days, and must have moved twice in 60 days, and must have specific conditions that stand in the way of getting permanent housing. Each condition requires “proof” – proof that most homeless families and youth do not have, and cannot get.
3. H.R. 32 cuts the red tape, so local service providers can determine who is most in need.
The needs of children and youth cannot be determined simply based on where they happen to sleep on a particular night. Many families and youth cycle through various situations, going from a shelter, to a couch in someone else’s home, to a motel, to yet another person’s couch or basement floor. Where they are able to lay their head at night does not determine the depth of their needs. People in local communities – not federal bureaucrats in Washington DC – are the best equipped to evaluate specific homeless situations to know which homeless families and youth are most at risk of harm, and in need of housing and services. H.R. 32 acknowledges that local service providers make such determinations on a daily basis, and permits them to assess the full range of homeless situations.
H.R. 32 trusts local service providers to know the needs of their neighbors and counts on HUD to do its job. Like emergency room doctors, local officials are best able to evaluate immediate needs and make informed decisions. They will not ignore broken arms in order to treat hangnails. HUD is already charged with working with communities to develop a plan that meets the needs of all homeless individuals. If HUD does that job well, community leaders will be held accountable for meeting the needs of every segment of the local homeless population.
3. Public policy should be based on reality, not fantasy.
Congress needs to know how many families, children, and youth are without housing in order to devise effective solutions. A definition that excludes hundreds of thousands of homeless children and youth harms not only the kids, but the broader effort to solve the problem of homelessness in America.
4. There is no budget impact.
H.R. 32 costs nothing. It merely extends HUD homeless eligibility to homeless children and youth who have been identified by other federal programs. H.R. 32 will facilitate coordination between different agencies serving the same children and youth, making their work more efficient. This means a better return on taxpayer dollars, and better services for children and youth.
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