EDITORS NOTE: This post was originally posted on June 4th when 353 organizations endorsing the Homeless Children and Youth Act (HCYA).  On July 2, 2015 we reached 400 organizations supporting HCYA.


The National Network for Youth (NN4Y) is a membership organization of service providers, state agencies, coalitions, faith-based organizations, advocates, and individuals who work towards our vision of a world where vulnerable and homeless youth have a safety net everywhere they turn—creating positive and strong communities one youth at a time.

NN4Y strongly supports and endorses the Homeless Children and Youth Act (HCYA) S.256/H.R.576. HCYA would remove real barriers to HUD homelessness assistance without imposing any new mandates on communities.


Under current law, homeless families with children and unaccompanied homeless youth who are staying in motels, or who are staying with others out of necessity, are eligible for U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Homelessness Assistance only under very limited conditions that are subject to complex and burdensome documentation. HUD’s homeless definition regulations in their entirety are at: www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2011-12-05/pdf/2011-30942.pdf.

The problems with HUD’s definition of homelessness are codified in statute and made worse with regulations. The only way to fix statutorily created barriers is by changing statute, which is what the Homeless Children and Youth Act would do. No amount of training and technical assistance or guidance can change existing law.

The current HUD definition was written largely based on research on chronically homeless adults. It resulted in federal policies that impose a priority on unsheltered homeless populations. It was not based on research on families and youth, whose homelessness looks different than that of single adults. Nor was it based on the experiences of federal programs and local providers that have expertise in serving homeless youth and families.

What Homelessness Looks Like for Youth and Families: Staying with Others and in Motels

Many homeless families and youth stay wherever they can, moving from a shelter one night, to a couch in someone else’s home, to a motel, to yet another person’s couch or basement floor. Families with children and unaccompanied homeless youth often must stay temporarily in motels or with others because there is no family or youth shelter in the community, shelters are full, or because shelter policies exclude them. Where they lay their head does not determine their housing or service needs. Hidden homeless children (families) and youth face serious health and safety threats, including higher risk of physical and sexual abuse and trafficking.

Federal programs that were created specifically for homeless children and youth use criteria that are appropriate for and reflective of the experiences of homeless families and unaccompanied youth. This narrow subset of programs include:

  1. Runaway and Homeless Youth Act
  2. The Violence Against Women Act
  3. The Health Care for the Homeless program
  4. The Education for Homeless Children and Youth program (McKinney-Vento education subtitle)
  5. The Higher Education Act
  6. The Head Start Act
  7. The Child Nutrition Act

These programs include in their definitions of homelessness, children and youth who are staying temporarily with others out of necessity, and those in motels due to lack of adequate alternative accommodations. They do not include people who are in stable living arrangements. For example, the education subtitle of the McKinney-Vento Act (42 U.S.C. §11434A(2)(A) and U.S. Department of Education guidance make very clear that stable adequate situations are not homeless.[1]

To learn more about the statutorily and regulatory created problems with the current HUD definition of homelessness, read this fact sheet. To learn more about the specific challenges of families and youth who pay to stay in motels, read this fact sheet.

Using Existing Resources More Effectively

We are far from having the resources we need to house all homeless persons, but we can do better with the resources we have. The best way to utilize finite federal resources is to acknowledge all persons experiencing homelessness; conduct assessments based on risk factors that are actually relevant to health and well-being (and that include appropriate criteria for children and youth); and prioritize according to those risk factors, within and among each homeless subpopulation (chronically homeless adults, families, unaccompanied youth, etc.).

This is exactly what the Homeless Children and Youth Act would allow communities to do. It would permit a limited set of professionals who are already working with homeless children and youth to make referrals to HUD-funded agencies, where youth and families can then be assessed and triaged according to their need for services.  It would not “dilute” or “flood” the system, but rather remove the barriers experienced by some of the youth and families with the greatest challenges. It would also allow communities to prioritize programs based on their local needs, as long as those needs are cost-effective in meeting the overall goals and objectives identified in the local plan. The development of evidence-informed assessment tools to determine vulnerability indices such as the VI-SPDAT, and the move to Coordinated Assessment, helps ensure that those with greatest needs within each population are prioritized for services, without relying on arbitrary and faulty criteria such as where or how long a person was able to find a place to stay.

Federal funding is used most effectively when it also leverages other resources, such as state and local funding, philanthropic, and corporate resources. When the real need is known, and validated by federal agencies, non-federal funders are more likely to contribute. The Homeless Children and Youth Act would allow communities and programs to expand the number of homeless persons they serve by expanding their ability to leverage resources other than only federal monies.

To learn more about how the Homeless Children and Youth Act would allow communities to use existing resources more effectively, read this fact sheet.

Get the Facts!

NN4Y strongly encourages providers and advocates to get the facts about the Homeless Children and Youth Act.

First, we recommend reading the bill itself; at just over seven pages, the legislation does not take long to read (S.256/H.R.576). For those who are not used to reading legislative language, we recommend reading a one-page summary of the bill that describes the exact changes that it would make to existing law.

Second, we recommend listening to young people themselves, including testimony of youth who spoke at a Congressional hearing on the Homeless Children and Youth Act in 2011. VIDEO IS HERE.

Third, we recommend learning from the local providers who support HCYA about their experiences and their reasons for supporting it. WHY NOW and TESTIMONY of Deborah Shore, Chairman, National Network for Youth and Executive Director and Founder, Sasha Bruce Youthwork at April 29, 2015 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Subcommittee: Hearing to Review U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development efforts to prevent and end youth homelessness.

Join the movement- 400 (organizations) and counting!!

#hcya #EndYouthHomelessnessNN4Y launched A Couch is Not a Home campaign in support of the Homeless Children and Youth Act which would bring us one step closer to having a HUD definition of homelessness that is reflective of the homelessness experiences of all homeless persons.

We invite you to join this movement and to show your support by joining the 400 organizations that endorse the Homeless Children and Youth Act!

Together, we can move from a complicated and exclusive homelessness system to a system that acknowledges, triages, and deems eligible all persons who experience homelessness.


[1] “Determining Eligibility for Rights and Services Under the McKinney-Vento Act,” National Center for Homeless Education, 2006, http://center.serve.org/nche/downloads/briefs/det_elig.pdf.


DOWNLOAD PDF OF NN4Y’S STATMENT: Over 350 Organizations Support HCYA- NN4Y is One of Them (June 3, 2015)



June 3, 2015

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