We need tough spending priorities to eliminate child homelessness

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Regarding "Across U.S., a Record Number of Homeless School Kids" (Oct. 31), we need to set our priorities as a nation, and as a region. The United States is no more than the sum of our values and our beliefs.

Imagine a child's experience with homelessness. The outcomes of these experiences are documented in school problems as children and the criminal justice and welfare systems as adults. We don't need to accept these outcomes. We do, however, need to speak out about our priorities for government spending.

For the last few years, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's priority has been to end chronic homelessness. The chronic homeless are often the visible homeless on downtown streets and under our bridges. The solution to chronic homelessness is usually mental health services and increasing the supply of single-room occupancy units.

While we as a nation have been focused on ending chronic homelessness, our children have become homeless in record numbers. A child's experience with homelessness is very different from chronic homelessness. The solution to child homelessness is increasing the supply of affordable family housing and achieving economic self-sufficiency for parents.

Allegheny County has excellent programs for all the homeless populations. However, continued funding for these programs is an annual challenge. We are anticipating HUD grants to Allegheny County be cut by as much as 8 percent this year. This funding cut will result in reducing services and possibly closing programs.

I understand the federal deficit, and I am not advocating for additional borrowing to solve all of our problems. I am encouraging you to help our lawmakers set budget priorities. If child homelessness touches your heart, as it does mine, speak up. There are 2,500 pre-school and school-age children counting on you and me to be their voice.

Mt. Lebanon
The writer is chair of the Allegheny County Homeless Advisory Board and past president of the HEARTH board of directors.

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