Thousands of kids not counted as homeless by HUD
Published: Tuesday, October 9, 2012
Updated: Friday, May 17, 2013 13:05
WASHINGTON - When she was 5, Irene Sauceda and her mother, Yolanda, began house hopping after her parents divorced, living with friends and relatives in the San Antonio area.
They were often forced out when landlords found out that extra people were staying with their tenants or mother and daughter felt they had overstayed their welcome. One friend was evicted when the landlord discovered the Saucedas were living there.
By the time Sauceda, now 19, finished elementary school, she had transferred six times.
But according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Saucedas weren’t homeless. Only those in what is considered the direst situations—living in a shelter, under a bridge or in a campground for a sustained period qualify for permanent housing assistance.
It’s all part of an ongoing debate about who should be eligible for federal housing programs. Should HUD—with a budget that was flat lined for the 2011 fiscal year—try to target only the most needy groups? Or should the pool of candidates increase to consider more people like Sauceda?
Homeless advocates are focusing on the second group of children through the Homeless Children and Youth Act. It would expand eligibility for services to 762,000 children, tripling the 350,049 children HUD served in 2010, the last year for which data is available. In the current fiscal year, 2012, HUD’s budget for homeless housing and service program was $1.9 billion.
“Those in the housing world say it’s lacking funding,” said Barbara Duffield, policy director at the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth. “They’re making the assumption families currently eligible are more in need than those who are not eligible.”
The bill lost traction after being approved by a subcommittee in February. Some advocates say they will reintroduce the bill in the next Congressional session and spoke of it during a U.S. House caucus meeting earlier this month. Sauceda, now a sophomore studying anthropology and social work at Texas State University, spoke to several members of Congress about her experiences. Although Sauceda is in college, her mother is still trying to find housing and lives with Sauceda’s older sister in San Antonio.
While the bill would not require that all children get funding, HUD would have to determine if they were more in need than those getting services under HUD’s current definition. Recalling her experiences of moving around versus her time at shelters, Sauceda said the shelter was a more stable environment with resources and information to help them.
“People walking house to house don’t know what’s out there because they’re busy trying to figure out where they’re going to go next,” she said.
Not everyone supports the bill. Expanding eligibility for a department that is unlikely to get increased funding with more people needing help is “thinning the soup to the point where there is no nutritional content,” Dennis P. Culhane, Dana and Andrew Stone Chair in Social Policy at the University of Pennsylvania, said.
“We have 250,000 people who are sleeping on the street any given night,” Culhane said, quoting a report that he co-wrote. “From a pure prioritization standpoint, and just a human needs stand point, I don’t see why we should expand eligibility to those programs to people who are not literally homeless. We don’t even have enough resources to provide basic emergency shelter.”
But that logic assumes that those living in cars, on the street or in shelters are more in need of shelter than those crashing on a friend’s couch or spare bedroom, Duffield said. Instead of assuming an individual in a shelter is worse off than a child who sleeps on the floor of a housing project, officials need to analyze all cases.
“They’re trying to dictate that from Washington, D.C.,” Duffield said. “What we’re saying is you can let the people on the local level do the triage.”
But more eligible people means additional time and staff to review cases. To have an efficient program, the groups with the neediest members—those with no roofs over their heads—should be targeted first, Ann Oliva, HUD acting deputy assistant secretary for special needs, said.
“We can focus what we want do and what we want to accomplish more effectively,” she said.
Emily Wilkins is a senior journalism and political science major at Michigan State University. She is currently interning at Scripps Howard Foundation’s Semester in Washington program. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.