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Friday, June 14, 2013

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 
Elayne J. Heisler 
Analyst in Health Services 
Gail McCallion 
Specialist in Social Policy 
Francis X. McCarthy 
Analyst in Emergency Management Policy 
Lisa N. Sacco 
Analyst in Illicit Drugs and Crime Policy

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 Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and Department of Labor (DOL) use the definition enacted as part of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act (P.L. 100-77). The McKinney-Vento Act definition of a homeless individual was broadened as part of the Helping Families Save Their Homes Act of 2009 (P.L. 111-22). 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 law expanded the definition to include those defined as homeless under other federal programs, in certain circumstances, as well as those who will imminently lose housing.

A number of federal programs in seven different agencies, many originally authorized by the McKinney-Vento Act, serve homeless persons. These include the Education for Homeless Children and Youth 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.

The federal government, through the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, has established a goal of ending homelessness among various populations, including families, youth, chronically homeless individuals, and veterans (the Department of Veterans Affairs also has its own goal of ending veteran homelessness). Point-in-time counts of those experiencing homelessness in 2012 indicate reductions among chronically homeless individuals, people in families, and veterans compared to 2007, the year that the recession began.

Legislatively, the 113
th Congress has seen enactment of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act (P.L. 113-4), which, among other provisions, reauthorized the Department of Justice transitional housing program. Further, as of the date of this report, the House had approved the Homes for Heroes Act of 2013 (H.R. 384), which would create a position in HUD for a Special Assistant for Veterans Affairs.

Date of Report: May 29, 2013
Number of Pages: 12
Order Number: R42964
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