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Nowhere To Go: Millions of Homeless Kids Prove Denial Doesn’t Fix Homelessness

Who has born the brunt of this nation’s decades long failure to deal with homelessness? Babies. Toddlers. Young kids. Teens. Young adults. Parents. Don’t take my word for it. Google “number of homeless students in 2006” and see what you find.

The Chicago Tribune reported, “Nationally, the number of children identified as homeless also has been growing. According to the latest available data, released last month by the U.S. Department of Education, 1.17 million homeless students were enrolled in 2011-12, the highest number on record.” (Nov. 7, 2013)

Perhaps this monumental, traumatic debacle is about to change. 

Unbeknownst to most, the most significant barrier contributing to neglect of millions of homeless kids and parents has been the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. As Congress retreated on support for subsidized housing back in the 1980s, HUD held onto a grossly inadequate definition of homelessness that excludes the bulk of those who experience many permutations of havingnowhere to go.

Family and youth homelessness, to no surprise but garnering little attention, has grown exponentially since last decade’s economic disintegration, although it was a significant, unaddressed problem since HUD’s budget was slashed in the early ‘80s. 

In 2006-07, schools identified 680,000 homeless students. In the 2012-13 school year the number had skyrocketed to almost 1.2 million, nearing a 72% increase. And that does not count younger or older siblings, parents or unidentified homeless students.

In 2001, Congress strengthened the U.S. Dept. of Education’s definition of homelessness to reflect the reality of most homeless students with their families or on their own—doubled up with another household, in motels, or bouncing around to keep a roof over their heads. The Runaway and Homeless Youth Act, Head Start, Health Care for the Homeless (all HHS programs) and Violence Against Women (DOJ program) also use the comprehensive definition. 

But HUD continues their unenlightened ways despite the reality that nowhere to go and plenty of peril endangering vulnerable children, youth and parents.

Shelters for families and youth are in appallingly short supply. Many communities have no shelters. And virtually all family and youth shelters turn significant numbers away for lack of bed space or because the family/youth doesn’t meet the shelter’s criteria.  

HUD thwarted previous efforts to expand their definition of homelessness to include families and youth not staying in HUD-funded shelters. HUD’s distorted homeless count (inaccurately) declines. School counts hit records. It’s time to change our approach to homelessness.

The Homeless Children and Youth Act, a bipartisan effort, will allow local communities to focus on the most at risk homeless population, children/youth, instead of being limited by D.C. bureaucracy. It would bring a long overdue reality check to how this nation identifies and addresses homelessness, making a compelling case for a more comprehensive approach to addressing this skyrocketing problem. 

Ignoring the issue will not make it better, as convincingly demonstrated since the federal government began to pay attention to homelessness in the late 1980s.

Greg Kaufmann in his The Nation post, astutely points out, “…the first step—the big step—seems to be this: see the problem of family homelessness, admit it and commit to doing something about it. And don’t for a second believe that working with a single adult is the same thing as working with a family with so many moving parts.” 

It’s time to look into the faces of little kids with nowhere to goand show them we’re doing everything we can to help. Here’s the TAKE ACTIONlink to urge your Member of Congress to co-sponsor this bill.

The distorted view of family/youth homelessness, with incredible suffering that goes along with having nowhere to go, and our false impression of the serious nature of this crisis hasn’t worked. It’s time for HUD to accept reality.