The Homeless Children and Youth Act was reintroduced this week in Congress by Stivers and other sponsors, including Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, also a Republican. First proposed in 2014, the bipartisan bill is again dividing advocates for the homeless.
Critics say an expanded definition of child and youth homelessness could make tens of thousands more people eligible for federal assistance programs and overwhelm a system that is already underfunded. They want to included the homeless definition for youths that have no permanent home and sleep wherever a friend, contact or family member has space for them too.
A HUD report to Congress in 2016, for example, says a point-in-time count showed the nation had 170,820 homeless youths under the age of 25. Data from the Department of Education for the 2014-2015 school year, meanwhile, showed the population of homeless children had soared to 1.2 million.
Stivers and others say the change could help to reveal the extent of youth homelessness by counting more of those who live in motels, doubled-up households and other tenuous situations, and who often can’t meet HUD’s strict definition and documentation requirements. Clearing the way for more assistance now can help prevent youths from joining the chronically homeless later, he said.
“I don’t think the questions they’re asking are unfair,” Stivers said of those who oppose the expanded definition. “But we can’t let this be a food fight between kids and adults.”
Barbara Duffield of SchoolHouse Connection, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group, said government badly needs a different and more coordinated approach to helping a population that’s often overlooked. Re-tooling the HUD definition also could give local communities flexibility to better serve homeless youths, she said.