Congress Hears Testimony on Bills to Address Homelessness
NLCHP Executive Director Testifies before Congressional Committee
FROM THE DESK OF
JOHN YOUNG, PRESIDENT AND HOMELESS ADVOCATE
HUNGER AND HOMELESS COALITION OF CITRUS COUNTY, INC.
1 – 352 – 628 – H E L P (4357)
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.