By Paul Boden
As we have all seen, on
our streets and in
the media, family homelessness over the past three years has
skyrocketed. The recent mortgage crisis has escalated the numbers even
In the face of growing numbers of families losing their homes, having
to split up for survivals sake, and even some children ending up in the
hellhole of the Foster Care System, what is our federal government
doing? Unbelievably, they seem intent on putting system-wide, draconian
obstacles in front of families trying desperately to find a roof over
On April 2, 2009 the House (HR 1877) and the Senate (S 808) both
reintroduced legislation entitled Homeless Emergency Assistance and
Rapid Transition to Housing (HEARTH) Act of 2009. If this bill becomes
law, as many people fear, thousands of destitute and poor families will
fail to “qualify” for services funded with federal homeless assistance
dollars because they will be deemed not homeless enough.
Families who have had to double and triple up with other people or who
are living in hotels/motels will be forced to show “credible” evidence
to authorities to prove that they are indeed completely, unequivocally,
technically, totally homeless.
If asked to leave a doubled or tripled household, their “host” will
need to verify that they cannot return. New York City sends inspectors.
If they are staying in a motel or SRO hotel room, they are not
considered homeless enough until their total household savings are less
than 14 days worth of hotel or motel fees. It is only at this point
that a family can qualify to get onto the often month-long waiting
lists for emergency homeless assistance.
Particularly significant for families and children is that both these
bills prohibit HUD homeless counts from requiring communities to
include these families. Every 2 years HUD mandates local communities to
count their number of homeless people. If a family has not managed to
secure a shelter bed and, therefore, is living in tenuous doubled-up
and motel situations, it quite literally does not count!
The consequences for homeless children and youth in these situations
are particularly ominous. In 2006, the Department of Education reported
688,174 homeless children in our schools and this year that number is
expected to rise 15 to 20 percent.
So where is the change we all voted for? New President. New Congress.
Same old bill.
homelessness, as with the mortgage crisis today, is deeply rooted in
federal government decisions. From 1978 to 2006, the Budget Authority
of HUD fell from $83 billion to $29 billion in 2004 constant dollars.
Meanwhile in that same time period, federal expenditures on mortgage
interest deductions grew from $40 billion to $122 billion. Direct
entitlement programs aimed at housing poor people were replaced with a
mortgage interest tax deduction program aimed at promoting home
ownership. But now that mortgages are collapsing and homes are being
foreclosed, families that were homeowners are becoming poor people.
The federal government along with unregulated banks created the crisis,
and banks are being bailed out. Meanwhile, families end up living in
crisis and get cut out of emergency assistance.
When a family falls into the street, does anyone hear it?
Note: This was originally published on the WRAP blog at
www.wraphome.org. The HEARTH Act was adopted in May with some
significant (but still not adequate) expansion in the HUD homelessness
definition, due to advocacy by WRAP, the National Policy and Advocacy
Council on Homelessness, and others.