A piece of federal legislation was recently introduced that would change the definition of homelessness and improve access to services for families across the country.
The bipartisan bill, known as The Homeless Children and Youth Act of 2019 (H.R. 2001) would removes barriers to U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) assistance, and many say it was a long-awaited change.
Judy Crockett, coordinator of the Manistee County Human Services Collaborative Body (HSCB), said it helps define how they count and determine the homeless population and impacts funding available to families.
“Under this new bill, if it passes, we would count individuals that meet any part of the newly amended definition of homelessness,” she said. “Our doubled-up youth and couch surfers would no longer be invisible in these programs.”
Crockett said the new definition could allow communities, including Manistee County, to score higher for more federal funding opportunities.
“The Homeless Children and Youth Act of 2019 recognizes that staying temporarily with other people or in a motel room because there is nowhere else to stay is unstable, and puts youth at risk for violence or human trafficking,” she said. “Other funding programs recognized this fact. If this bill passes, HUD will also recognize the broader definition of homelessness.”
Representative Steve Stivers (R-OH) and Representative Dave Loebsack (D-IA) reintroduced the legislation on April 1, and both expressed the importance of passing the bill.
“No kid should ever be without a home, and it is unacceptable that our government forces them to attempt to navigate bureaucracy instead of giving them the assistance they need,” Stivers said. “This bill will help bring these children out of the shadows, help policymakers better understand the scope of youth homelessness, and, ultimately, give kids the care that they deserve.”
Loebsack said he experienced poverty firsthand and felt the bill would identify more individuals in need of assistance.
“Having been raised in poverty by a mother who struggled with mental illness, I know firsthand how important community supports are and the difference they can make in people’s lives. We also must be aware of some of the children who slip through the cracks. In order to help children who are homeless, or have nowhere to go, we must make it easier for them to access the assistance programs that are offered in their communities,” said Loebsack. “I am pleased to help reintroduce the Homeless Children and Youth Act to help communities best provide for those most in need.”
According to the bill’s endorsement website, 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.
“Passage of this bill would also allow grant application scoring to be based on issues and priorities established by communities, rather than federal incentives that may not match what we need here in our county,” said Crockett. “We would be able to tailor programs to fit our community needs.”
The bill would have impacts in Manistee County in areas such as the Point In Time (PIT) count, which helps shed light on how many individuals in the community are living without appropriate shelter.
“Our agencies have recognized for years that this old definition of homelessness does not work for us in Manistee County,” she said. “They have been advocating for these changes for a long time. We encourage everyone to contact our local representatives to advocate for the passage of this bill.”
The results of the PIT count were recently released for 2018, which provided a variety of statistics on local families who are struggling.
“For the homeless count — which takes place in the typically extremely cold month of January — we were required to count those who were literally homeless,” Crockett explained. “Meaning they were sleeping in a car, a tent or in the shelter here such as Safe Harbor or even CHOICES. Those doubled up or couch surfing were considered sheltered.”
The data showed 66 individuals overall are considered homeless in Manistee County, including three individuals who are veterans and 13 are senior citizens (age 55 and older).
Approximately 36 percent are disabled, and several had experienced homelessness for several months or multiple times in the past several years.
“We have a number of agencies and compassionate caring individuals in the HSCB who work with our homeless population every day,” said Crockett. “The results of the PIT count were of no surprise. They see these folks and care for them every day.”
The complete data can be found on the Northwest Michigan Coalition to End Homelessness website at www.nwmichcoc.com.