The Nerve! Wanting to End Family/Youth Homelessness

The 25th Anniversary of an Unlikely Law Spurs Audacity

No admittance to school for too many students experiencing homelessness. Photo Diane Nilan

What sense does it make to block entry to school just because a student is homeless? That’s the question that we posed 25 years ago in Illinois, and our state legislature responded by passing the first state legislation to remove barriers kids encountered because of homelessness.

The Illinois Education for Homeless Children Act, or Charlie’s Law, was a great improvement over existing federal law that had gigantic loopholes. 3 kids from our shelter were barred from their schools, a trauma-inducing punishment for their homelessness that they didn’t deserve.

In what could only be described as kismet, our state law became the core of the federal law, passing in 2001. The McKinney-Vento Education for Homeless Children and Youth Act (MV EHCY) is a simple, powerful law that has meant educational access and stability for millions of children and youth.

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HUD sort of forgets that kids are homeless, too. Photo Diane Nilan

Now we want HUD to use the definition of homelessness in MV EHCY. (compare the 2) Wait! Let me explain why this is so important.

This could be the impetus to finally address family and youth homelessness.

HUD (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) is the federal agency charged with providing housing for very low-income and homeless families and individuals.They hold the cards on who gets housing assistance and who doesn’t.

They limit that assistance to the most narrow segment of the homeless population possible, about 10% of those without a home by a technicality. Their definition is so limited that an estimated 80% of families/youth are excluded, left to scramble on their own to find a place to stay.

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For too many, “no exit” is the reality when trying to escape homelessness. Photo Diane Nilan

No, shelters don’t pick up the slack. Outside urban areas, few communities have shelters, and many of those are seasonal, exclude families because they have older male children, too many kids, same-sex parents, or just because they lack space. So families/youth turn to relatives, acquaintances, no-tell motels, campgrounds, abandoned buildings, etc. Precarious at best.

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. (SchoolHouse Connection)

What do you call it when families/youth lose housing and have nowhere to go? (Watch my 8-min. video.)

True, HUD doesn’t have enough resources. But that’s because they’ve been underselling the scope of homelessness to Congress. Without a more accurate report to Congress, HUD will never get additional resources. Our abysmal approach to homelessness will continue to be abysmal, and kids will become homeless adults. “But it’s clear that we can prevent a lifetime of homelessness by focusing on ending homelessness for young people.” (Raikes Foundation)

We’ve got a fix — a bipartisan bill to align HUD’s definition with the US Department of Education’s definition, the Homeless Children and Youth Act of 2019.

“This bipartisan legislation corrects long-standing flaws in U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) homeless assistance for children, youth, and families.” (SchoolHouse Connection)

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HEAR US 2020 VisionQuest routes.

I’m going on the road in a few months to interview families/youth excluded by HUD’s definition. My HEAR US 2020 VisionQuest trip will give me the chance to focus on this invisible, uncounted population, and give them a chance to be heard and seen.

What Can You Do?

  • Here are the details about the trip and how to follow me. Since this is a freelance project, I need to raise money to cover my basic expenses.
  • Here is info on how to urge your congressperson to support the Homeless Children and Youth Act.

Impossible just takes a little more time…”

Carrie Newcomer’s song You Can Do This Hard Thing.

Founder/pres. HEAR US Inc., gives voice & visibility to homeless families & youth, ran shelters, advocate, filmmaker, author, 15 yrs. on US backroads.

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