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Congress Hears Testimony on Bills to Address Homelessness

NLCHP Executive Director Testifies before  Congressional Committee 

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Congress Hears Testimony on Bills to Address  Homelessness NLCHP Executive Director Testifies before  Congressional Committee  

WASHINGTON, DC, OCTOBER 4, 2007 – It has been  more than 20 years since the first and only federal aid legislation  aimed at addressing homelessness was passed by Congress, and on  Thursday, October 4, NLCHP and other advocates testified at a  Congressional hearing on  legislation to  reauthorize the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance  Act.   
  "In passing the McKinney Act, Congress explicitly  stated that it was intended to be only a first step in addressing  the national crisis of homelessness," Maria Foscarinis, NLCHP  executive director, said in her testimony before the Subcommittee on  Housing and Community Opportunities House Committee on Financial Services.  "Congress recognized that longer-term  solutions … were needed.  But to date, those  have not been passed."   
  Two pieces of legislation, one each in the House  and Senate, have been introduced so far to reauthorize the McKinney  Act.  Both of them would substantially increase  current funding levels, but vary significantly in other aspects.  Some of the primary differences between  the bills include the definition of homelessness, funding set-asides, and levels of community participation, and measures to  discourage the criminalization of  homelessness.   
   The Homelessness Emergency and Rapid Transition  to Housing Act, H.R. 840, as known as the HEARTH Act, was introduced  in the House of Representatives in February by Rep. Julia  Carson.  NLCHP has endorsed the HEARTH Act because  it makes several important changes to existing law, including  expanding the definition of homelessness to include those doubled-up  or living in motels or campgrounds.   
   "It would reduce problems that service providers  currently experience with dual definitions, such as being able to  obtain McKinney education funded tutoring for homeless children in a  doubled-up family but not being able to help that family to find  stable and secure housing with HUD McKinney funds," Foscarinis  said.      
   The Community Partnership to End Homelessness  (CPEH) Act, S. 1518, was introduced to the Senate in May by Senator  Jack Reed.  While CPEH expands assistance to those  doubled-up or living in motels, it limits the number of people  eligible by requiring someone to log three address changes in a year  or two changes in 21 days to receive  assistance.   
   In addition to fully expanding the definition of  homelessness, the HEARTH Act provides measures to discourage cities  from criminalizing homelessness.  A growing  number of cities are enacting or enforcing ordinances or policies  that penalize homeless persons for engaging in necessary,  life-sustaining activities in public spaces even when they have  nowhere else to go, Foscarinis said.  The HEARTH  Act would require HUD to consider the extent to which cities  penalize homeless status as an award criterion for  grants.   
   Foscarinis outlined one provision in the CPEH  legislation that NLCHP would like included in the House  legislation.  CPEH would provide for the renewals  of HUD McKinney permanent housing projects from the Housing Choice  Voucher program.   
   "This would provide a steady revenue stream for  nonprofits to use to pay back financing used for rehabilitation,"  Foscarinis explained.  "By creating a secure  source of funding for housing rehabilitation, it enables nonprofits  to more easily obtain financing for the  rehabilitation."   
   Some of the other speakers before the  subcommittee included: Senator Reed; Senator Wayne Allard; Rep.  Barney Frank; Connecticut State Senator John McKinney (son of  Stewart B. McKinney); Deborah DeSantis, president and chief  executive officer of the Corporation for Supportive Housing; and  Jeremy Rosen, executive director of the National Policy and Advocacy  Council on Homelessness.   
   The McKinney Act authorized several critical  programs that have saved lives and improved living conditions for  the people they serve. Programs created by the Act include emergency  shelter and supportive housing, emergency food assistance, job  training, transfer of vacant federal property for use to assist  homeless persons, health care for homeless persons, outreach to  homeless persons with mental illness, assistance for homeless  veterans and an interagency council to improve coordination of  federal programs that benefit homeless persons. The Act also  required states to address barriers that prevented homeless children  and youth from enrolling in and attending public schools.