On August 15, 2023, the Homeless Children and Youth Act (H.R.5221) was reintroduced by U.S. Representatives Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ-11,) Bill Posey (R-FL-08), Delia Ramirez (D-IL-03), and Don Bacon (R-NE-02).
Most children, youth, and families experiencing homelessness are shut out of homeless assistance because they do not meet the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) restrictive definition of homelessness.
- Shelters and transitional housing are often full, unable to serve families as a unit, do not accept unaccompanied minor youth, or simply do not exist in too many communities. When families and youth are not able to access shelter, they are much less likely to be eligible for HUD homeless assistance programs.
- Families experiencing homelessness are also less likely than single adults to stay on the streets and other outdoor locations, often because they are afraid their children will be removed from their custody. Unaccompanied youth experiencing homelessness fear interactions with authorities and exploitation from older adults whether in a shelter, on the street, or staying on someone’s couch.
- For these reasons, families and youth are much more likely to stay temporarily with other people, or in motels — situations that are themselves very unstable, often unsafe, and put them at risk of great harm, including trafficking. They often move between situations and may not know where they will sleep from one night to the next.
While these youth and families are considered homeless by some federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, they are not considered homeless by HUD. As a result, they are not eligible to be assessed for and receive HUD homeless assistance. Yet the children and youth who are excluded from HUD’s definition of homelessness are extremely vulnerable, and are at great risk of continuing to experience homelessness as adults.
The Homeless Children and Youth Act (HCYA) fixes this problem by aligning federal definitions of homelessness for children and youth, streamlining assistance, leveraging resources, and bringing greater visibility to the reality of family and youth homelessness.
Take Two Actions Now!
1. Urge Your U.S. Representative to Sign On as a Co-Sponsor of H.R.5221
- Arrange to meet virtually or in person with your U.S. Representative or their staff to educate them about the harms of hidden homelessness and urge them to sign on to HCYA. Invite your community partners to join you! You can find contact information for your U.S. Representative here. If you’d like assistance setting up meetings with your elected officials, please email Rodd Monts, SHC’s Director of State Policy.
- Use these data profiles to find out how many children and youth are excluded from HUD homeless assistance in your Congressional district because they are staying with others or in motels in your Congressional district.
- If you don’t have time to meet, use this editable action form to send a personalized letter to your US Representative urging them to cosponsor the Homeless Children and Youth Act.
2. Use this form to add your organization’s name to the list of organizational endorsers. Please share widely with your community partners!
Facts about the Homeless Children & Youth Act
#1 Aligns HUD's Definition of Homelessness with those of other federal programs.
Why: HUD’s definition of homelessness excludes most children and youth whose families pay for a motel room, or who must stay with other people temporarily, because there is nowhere else to go. These situations are unstable and often unsafe, putting children and youth at high risk of trafficking and violence. Under HUD’s definition, children and youth in such living situations are not even assessed for services. Other federal programs recognize that children and youth in such living situations are homeless.
How: Children and youth whose homelessness has been verified by one of eight specific federal programs would be eligible for HUD homeless assistance. They would be able to be assessed for services using the same “vulnerability” indices (including age-appropriate criteria) used currently to prioritize people for assistance.
Benefit: Communities can assess and serve the most vulnerable children, youth and adults. This streamlined process would eliminate paperwork, improve interagency coordination, and help leverage resources.
#2 Requires HUD to score applications primarily on whether they are cost-effective in meeting the priorities and goals that communities identify in their local plans.
Why: HUD has imposed strong federal incentives and requirements for certain housing models, like Rapid Rehousing, and for certain populations, like chronically homeless adults, that do not match all communities’ needs. Even when communities identify greater needs for other populations or program models, they must adopt HUD’s national priorities in order to be competitive for funding.
How: HUD would be required to ensure that scoring is based primarily on the extent to which communities demonstrate that a project a) meets the priorities identified in the local plan, and b) is cost-effective in meeting the goals identified in the local plan. HUD would be prohibited from awarding greater priority based solely on the specific homeless population or housing model. Local innovation and success would be incentivized.
Benefit: Communities can provide assistance tailored to the unique needs of each homeless population in their community, including models most appropriate and effective for youth and families.
#3 Improves HUD homeless assistance data and transparency.
Why: HUD’s Point in Time (PIT) count leaves out many homeless children, youth and families, keeping them invisible and limiting public and private action.
How: If communities conduct annual counts of homeless people, they would be required to count individuals that meet any part of the newly amended definition of homelessness. This would not require an additional PIT count, as other federal programs already are documenting homelessness for those individuals. Data collection would require communication among federal programs regarding their homeless numbers—communication that will improve interagency collaboration and leverage resources.
Benefit: Communities will have a more complete picture of homelessness among all who experience it, enabling more accurate and effective responses.
- Homeless Children and Youth Fact Sheet
- Questions and Answers about the Homeless Children and Youth Act
- Hidden Homelessness in the U.S.: Why Congress Must Change HUD’s Definition of Homelessness to Align With Other Federal Agencies
- The Pitfalls of HUD’s Point-in-Time Count for Children, Youth, and Families