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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Homelessness: Targeted Federal Programs and Recent Legislation


Libby Perl, Coordinator
Specialist in Housing Policy

Adrienne L. Fernandes-Alcantara
Specialist in Social Policy

Garrine P. Laney
Analyst in Social Policy

Gail McCallion
Specialist in Social Policy

Francis X. McCarthy
Analyst in Emergency Management 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. Currently, the HUD definition of a homeless individual is one 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. However, the definition 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. The new definition will take effect approximately 18 months from the date the law was enacted.

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 four separate programs that provide housing and services for homeless individuals—the Supportive Housing Program, the Shelter Plus Care program, the Section 8 Moderate Rehabilitation of Single-Room Occupancy Dwellings program, and the Emergency Shelter Grants program. 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 in recent months due, at least in part, to the downturn in the economy. Some homeless service providers report that the numbers of individuals seeking assistance are increasing, the number of contacts that outreach workers made with homeless youth increased in 2008, and school districts in some communities report that they are serving more homeless students than they did the previous year. In the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (P.L. 111-5), Congress appropriated funds to serve homeless individuals through various programs, including the Emergency Food and Shelter program, the Education for Homeless Children and Youths program, and a new Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-housing Program. Congress also recently reauthorized the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants for the first time since FY1994. Additionally, active legislation in the 111
th Congress includes the Homeless Veterans and Other Veterans Health Care Authorities Act (S. 1237), and the Homes for Heroes Act (H.R. 403, which has been passed by the House, and S. 1160, which has been introduced in the Senate).


Date of Report: October 8, 2010
Number of Pages: 44
Order Number: RL30442
Price: $29.95

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