Washington — More than 250 advocates for children and the homeless today sent a letter to Capitol Hill, endorsing bipartisan legislation to eliminate bureaucratic obstacles that deny federal assistance to nearly one million homeless children. The letter, sent to the congressional sponsors of the Homeless Children and Youth Act (HR 5186 in the United States House of Representatives and S 2653 in the U.S. Senate) was coordinated by the First Focus Campaign for Children and the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth. It was signed by more than 50 national and regional advocacy organizations ranging from the American Psychological Association and the Child Welfare League of America to the National Parent Teacher Association and the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, as well as more than 215 advocates in 41 states and the District of Columbia.

“HUD denies help to nearly a million homeless children who live every day with the same hunger, trauma, exploitation and violence as homeless adults,” said First Focus Campaign for Children president Bruce Lesley.

“Homeless children and their families, along with unaccompanied youth, face urgent housing needs. We must change federal policy so that local communities can address them,” said Jeremy Rosen, Director of Advocacy at the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty.

The U.S. Department of Education reports that more than 1.1 million children in America are homeless. Children face the same problems as other homeless Americans, including hunger, health problems, and increased risk of exploitation and violence. But because the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) uses a different definition of “homeless,” the bulk of the nation’s homeless children cannot get basic HUD-funded assistance, like supportive housing, food, and mental health services.

The Homeless Children and Youth Act, sponsored in the United States Senate by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), and Mark Begich (D-Alaska), and in the U.S. House of Representatives by Congressman Steve Stivers (R-Ohio-15) and Congressman George Miller (D-Calif.-11), would eliminate the definitional obstacle and funding restrictions that effectively deny most homeless children basic assistance. As the letter observes, the bill would not require local governments and nonprofits receiving HUD funds to prioritize children, but it would empower local leaders to serve all homeless people and end current policies that deny most homeless children the same assistance available to homeless adults.

“Homeless youth are denied access to HUD homeless assistance programs due to a lack of eligibility or their ability to ‘prove’ their homelessness. HCYA would enable homeless youth providers to serve all youth who are homeless,” Darla Bardine, Executive Director, National Network for Youth.

“Every day, public schools serve children and youth whose lives have been disrupted by homelessness, who struggle to focus on their schoolwork because they don’t know what will happen after the school bell rings. This legislation would allow schools and early childhood programs to make referrals for critical HUD homeless assistance services that would stabilize their education, and their lives,” said Barbara Duffield, Director of Policy and Programs, National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth.

“This thoughtful legislation simply restores HUD to its proper role of helping communities prevent and end homelessness for all vulnerable community members. After a decade’s worth of harmful, Washington-driven homeless policy that stripped funding from family, domestic violence, and youth shelters and services, the HCYA comes not a day too soon,” said Ruth White, Executive Director, National Center for Housing & Child Welfare.

“This bipartisan plan would restore local control to communities, so Washington bureaucrats can no longer deny homeless people help just because they’re children,” said Lesley.

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The First Focus Campaign for Children is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization affiliated with First Focus, a bipartisan children’s advocacy organization. The Campaign for Children advocates directly for legislative change in Congress to ensure children and families are the priority in federal policy and budget decisions. For more information, visit www.ffcampaignforchildren.org.

The National Network for Youth (NN4Y) is the nation’s leading network of homeless and runaway youth programs. The Network champions the needs of runaway, homeless, and other disconnected youth through strengthening the capacity of community-based services, facilitating resource sharing, and educating the public and policy makers. NN4Y’s members serve homeless youth across the country, working collaboratively to prevent youth homelessness and the inherent risks of living on the streets, including exploitation, human trafficking, criminal justice involvement, or death. For more information, visit www.nn4youth.org.

The National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth is a national membership association dedicated to supporting the educational success of children and youth experiencing homelessness. NAEHCY connects educators, service providers, advocates, families and youth to ensure school attendance and overall success for children and youth whose lives have been disrupted by homelessness. NAEHCY accomplishes its mission through advocacy, partnerships, and education. For more information, visit www.naehcy.org.

The National Center for Housing and Child Welfare (NCHCW) links housing resources and knowledge to child welfare agencies in order to improve family functioning, prevent family homelessness, and reduce the need for out-of-home placement. NCHCW also brings housing resources to child welfare agencies in order to ensure that older youth in foster care have a connection to permanent family as well as a solid plan for stable housing and services to help them be successful as adults.

The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty (NLCHP) is a 501(c) 3 organization based in Washington, D.C. and founded in 1989 as the legal arm of the national movement to end and prevent homelessness. Through policy advocacy, public education, and impact litigation, NLCHP addresses the root causes of homelessness and seeks to meet both the immediate and long-term needs of homeless and poor people. Through training and support, NLCHP also enhances the capacity of local groups.