Recently, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released its Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress. This report provides a “point-in-time” count of homeless Americans, an estimate which is based upon the numbers collected on one particular night in January.
The count includes homeless individuals living in shelters, and those identified by volunteers who survey places such as streets, parks, rail stations and all-night businesses where those who are homeless frequently seek shelter.
In 2015, HUD identified 128,000 homeless children under the age of 18 in the United States. This reflects a 5.8 percent decrease from the numbers it released for 2014. While a decrease in the number of homeless youth would be cause to celebrate, unfortunately, these numbers don’t provide a complete picture of the problem.
In fact, the HUD survey does not consider the places most homeless families and youth can be found, which is staying temporarily with other people, or in motels. By comparison, the Department of Education, which does consider these living arrangements, identified more than 1.3 million homeless children and youth in the 2013-2014 school year, a number that was UP from 2012-2013.
Two different federal agencies with two completely different stories to tell as it relates to homeless youth — this is a discrepancy we must fix to ensure that the federal government has accurate data and the information it needs to best serve this extremely vulnerable population.
That’s why Representative Dave Loebsack (D-IA) and I introduced the Homeless Children and Youth Act last January. This bipartisan legislation would require HUD to adopt a more accurate definition of homelessness, to ensure that homeless children and youth are eligible for the same assistance available to homeless adults. Specifically, our bill would expand HUD’s definition of “homeless” to include all children and youth who are already verified as homeless by several other federal educational and social services programs.
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 and to get access to available services that will help get them back on their feet. This change would help HUD more effectively serve these young people, and they could do it at no new cost to American taxpayers.
Representative Loebsack and I have been working closely with First Focus Campaign for Children, the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth, the National Parent Teacher Association, the National Network for Youth, the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, and the National Center for Housing and Child Welfare to garner support for this important legislation. In addition, a companion bill has been introduced in the U.S. Senate by Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Diane Feinstein (D-CA).
As temperatures begin to drop and provide more challenges for homeless Americans everywhere, it is my hope that Congress will act soon on this bipartisan and common-sense effort to serve those most in need.
Steve Stivers is a three-term Member of Congress from Ohio’s 15th Congressional District.