The House Financial Services Subcommittee on Insurance, Housing and Community Opportunity held a hearing, “The Homeless Children and Youth Act of 2011: Proposals to Promote Economic Independence for Homeless Children and Youth,” on December 15.
The hearing focused on legislation introduced by Subcommittee Chair Judy Biggert (R-IL), H.R. 32, which would expand the HUD definition of homelessness to align with the definition of homelessness used by the Department of Education. The expanded definition would count children living in “doubled-up” situations as homeless.
NLIHC submitted a letter for the record commending Ms. Biggert for bringing issues of homelessness among children, youth, and families to the attention of Congress. At the same time, NLIHC expressed reservations about the expanded definition of homelessness while HUD is still in the process of generating regulations for implementation of the HEARTH Act (see Memo, 11/18).
“While there are a number of policy interventions that can mitigate the effects of homelessness on children, the fact remains that children, families, and society will all be better off if we can intervene to prevent homelessness from the outset. This can be done by assuring that sufficient resources are provided to ensure that all households have access to housing that is affordable to them. One way to assure access to affordable housing for these households is through the capitalization of the National Housing Trust Fund,” said NLIHC President and CEO Sheila Crowley in the letter.
The hearing’s first panel was comprised of children and youth who have experienced homelessness and housing instability. They described the challenges they faced due to their lack of stable housing.
“What we really need is a home of our own. When I get in my own house again, everything will get so much better. It will make it a lot easier to focus in school, not be stressed about my living situation, or feel ashamed of where I live. We will be able to get all of our basic necessities and my family will not be stressed out and arguing. It will be so much better for everyone. Then I will be able to focus on what is really important like my education,” said Destiny Raynor of Winter Springs, Florida.
In a second panel, Barbara Poppe, Executive Director, U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH), noted that the witnesses on the first panel are all eligible for assistance under mainstream housing programs, but that Congress has not appropriated sufficient resources to meet the need.
The HEARTH Act also introduced changes that make it easier for children and families to be served by HUD programs. “In particular, HEARTH expressly allows for HUD programs to serve persons who are defined as at risk of homelessness, it expands the definition of who is considered homeless and now includes qualifying families and children in the definition of chronically homeless” said Mark Johnston, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Office of Special Needs, HUD, in his written testimony.
Several witnesses and Members of Congress referenced a GAO study, “Homelessness: To Improve Data and Programs, Agencies Have Taken Steps to Develop a Common Vocabulary.” Representative George Miller (D-CA), Ranking Member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, attended the hearing and expressed concerns about inconsistencies in the definition of homelessness as mentioned in the report. Ms. Poppe said that USICH is progressing in its requirement under the HEARTH Act to coordinate meetings with different agencies to develop a common vocabulary and data standard.
NLIHC’s letter is available at: http://nlihc.org/doc/NLIHC_Homeless_Children_Youth_Ltr_12-14-11.pdf
An archived hearing webcast and all witness testimony are available at http://financialservices.house.gov/Calendar/EventSingle.aspx?EventID=271819
The GAO report is available at http://financialservices.house.gov/UploadedFiles/121511cackley.pdf