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Thursday, October 6, 2011

Homelessness: Targeted Federal Programs and Recent Legislation

Libby Perl, Coordinator
Specialist in Housing Policy

Erin Bagalman
Analyst in Health Policy

Adrienne L. Fernandes-Alcantara
Specialist in Social Policy

Gail McCallion
Specialist in Social Policy

Francis X. McCarthy
Analyst in Emergency Management Policy

Lisa N. Sacco
Analyst in Illicit Drugs/Crime Policy

Barbara English
Information Research Specialist

The causes of homelessness and determining how best to assist those who find themselves homeless became particularly prominent, visible issues in the 1980s. The concept of homelessness may seem like a straightforward one, with individuals and families who have no place to live falling within the definition. However, the extent of homelessness in this country and how best to address it depend upon how one defines the condition of being homeless.

There is no single federal definition of homelessness, although a number of programs, including those overseen by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the Department of Labor (DOL) use the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) definition. The HUD definition of a homeless individual was recently broadened as part of the Helping Families Save Their Homes Act of 2009 (P.L. 111-22), which was signed by the President on May 20, 2009. Previously, a homeless individual was defined as a person who lacks a fixed nighttime residence and whose primary nighttime residence is a supervised public or private shelter designed to provide temporary living accommodations, a facility accommodating persons intended to be institutionalized, or a place not intended to be used as a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings. The new law expanded the definition to include those defined as homeless under other federal programs as well as those who will imminently lose housing.

A number of federal programs in seven different agencies, many authorized by the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act (P.L. 100-77), serve homeless persons. These include the Education for Homeless Children and Youths program administered by the Department of Education (ED) and the Emergency Food and Shelter program, a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) program run by the Department of Homeland Security. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) administers multiple programs that serve homeless individuals, including Health Care for the Homeless, Projects for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness, and the Runaway and Homeless Youth program.

HUD administers the Homeless Assistance Grants, made up of grant programs that provide housing and services for homeless individuals ranging from emergency shelter to permanent housing. The VA operates numerous programs that serve homeless veterans. These include Health Care for Homeless Veterans and the Homeless Providers Grant and Per Diem program, as well as a collaborative program with HUD called HUD-VASH, through which homeless veterans receive Section 8 vouchers from HUD and supportive services through the VA. The Department of Labor also operates a program for homeless veterans, the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program.

Attention has turned to homelessness during the last several years, at least in part due to the downturn in the economy. Some homeless service providers report that the numbers of individuals seeking assistance are increasing, school districts in some communities report that they are serving more homeless students than they did the previous year, and HUD’s Annual Homeless Assessment Report for 2010 found increased numbers of homeless families using shelter. In addition, as communities expend the last of their Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing funds (awarded as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, P.L. 111-5), there is concern that homelessness may increase.

Date of Report: September
29, 2011
Number of Pages:
Order Number: R
Price: $29.95

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