Thursday, April 19, 2007

Write Your U.S. Representatives about HR 840

For those of you who lack writing ability time, I have included a nice, Colorado specific template - please feel free to use.

For those of you elsewhere in the country, feel free to take a look at the National Coalition for the Homeless site and insert their data, national or that which is applicable to your own state.

To find your representative's contact info, click here.

To see where your state representatives are on co-sponsorship of this bill, click here.

Ok, the template...

(Insert organization name here) would like to draw your attention to a great crisis in Colorado – homelessness.

Based on a statewide homeless census that was conducted in August, 2006*, there were a minimum of 16,203 homeless persons in the state of Colorado counted within a 24 hour period of time. Another 1,577 survey respondents while not homeless, were living on the edge of homelessness. The actual scope of homelessness is likely to encompass a much higher number of persons due to the tendency to
undercount a population with often unstable and transient lifestyles.

Regardless of the number, and whether it was high or low, several startling discoveries were realized when the data from the count was analyzed:

  • 66% (7,713) were households with children
  • 34% (3,643) were children and teens
  • 50% of all respondents (3,165) had one or more disabling condition (serious mental illness, HIV/AIDS, serious medical/physical condition, developmental disability or chronic substance abuse)
  • 9% of all respondents (610) were identified as chronically homeless

Further, the following shelter/housing trends were noticed:

  • 31% were in time-limited transitional housing
  • 23% were temporarily staying with friends and/or family
  • 19% were staying in an emergency shelter
  • 10% were unsheltered

While many of Colorado’s homeless are actually employed, working hard to keep their families together, it just isn’t enough. Add any of the above conditions, transportation obstacles, long waiting lists for services, and programmatic barriers to the mix and the future is bleak, particularly for the children who have no control over their family circumstances.

At a national level, there has been confusion over the definition of homeless, seeing as the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act provides three different versions, one for the U.S. Dept. of Education, one for the U.S. Dept. of Veteran’s Affairs, and the final one for the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). HUD’s definition is the most stringent, and the most tied to whether a person would receive housing assistance or not. HUD’s definition of homeless has been especially problematic in a variety of situations, taking the following examples:

1.) A single mother with two children has recently lost her job. She and her children stayed with her parents, who could only house them for so long. They then stayed with her long-time friend, and so on. Her daughter’s school performance failed due to the instability at home. The school’s homeless services liaison intervened and found a HUD program that offered transitional housing for homeless parents…

2.) A homeless man with schizophrenia decompensated and ended up being placed in a state mental hospital. Once he was stabilized, he was discharged to the care of the local community mental health center, which placed him in their half-way house. In the meantime, an opening in the center’s HUD regulated Shelter Plus Care program came about…

It would seem that all things are coming together for the people in our examples. Except that sadly, once they get into the process, they will find that they do not meet HUD’s stringent definition of homelessness and stable housing will remain out of reach for all of them.

But, it doesn’t have to be that way! On February 6, Representatives Julia Carson (D-IN), Geoff Davis (R-KY), Barbara Lee (DCA) and Rick Renzi (R-AZ) introduced H. R. 840, the Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing (HEARTH) Act of 2007. Key HEARTH provisions include:

  • Aligning the HUD definition of who is homeless more closely with the definition used by other federal agencies by including people who are living in doubled-up situations or in hotels/motels due to lack of adequate alternatives. This change will provide communities with the flexibility to serve the people who are homeless within their borders.

  • Consolidating all HUD McKinney-Vento housing programs (except Emergency Shelter Grants) into one competitive program with a broad set of eligible activities, including homelessness prevention, permanent or transitional housing for any homeless population, and supportive services. This is the first time that homelessness prevention would be an eligible activity under the competitive portion of HUD’s homeless assistance grants.

  • Does not codify a definition of “chronic homelessness” or a set of incentives designed to end “chronic homelessness.” This would end the current push to allocate significant resources for a minority sub-population of the homeless. At the same time, communities wishing to prioritize housing and services for homeless persons living on the streets are free to target dollars to that population

(Insert organization name here) enthusiastically endorses H.R. 840, the HEARTH Act of 2007, and respectfully requests your consideration in joining the growing list of bipartisan cosponsors. Currently, there are no Colorado cosponsors – please consider your constituents in need! Passage of this bill is one of many steps toward eliminating homelessness and building a stronger future for not only Colorado, but for America in general.


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