Define homelessness. Think that sounds easy? Well, when it comes to federal agencies, the answer can be confusing — and contradictory.
A report released by the advocacy group First Focus Campaign for Children and based on U.S. Department of Education statistics showed a troubling increase in the number of homeless students both statewide and across the nation. Nationally, there were 1.4 million children identified as homeless attending public schools in 2013-14, 22,765 of them in Pennsylvania.
The findings call attention to more than the terrible problem of homelessness; the statistics also draw attention to the way the federal education department and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development define it.
For education purposes, children are considered homeless if they “lack a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence” and it includes those who double up with other families because they don’t have their own home. HUD’s definition excludes families that double up, which Bill Wolfe of the Homeless Children’s Education Fund in Pittsburgh said are the majority of homeless families.
The difference means families that are sharing the home of others are not eligible for housing assistance.
The education department’s approach is sound public policy because it gives children consistency in their schooling at a time of turmoil. HUD should follow suit.
The proposed Homeless Children and Youth Act, introduced in both chambers earlier this year, would amend the HUD definition. Congress can help the nation’s homeless children by helping their families provide a stable home for them.