Senator Feinstein seeks to expand federal housing help for homeless children

SAN DIEGO (KUSI) — California Senator Dianne Feinstein was in San Diego Tuesday touring a school for homeless children and promoting a bill that would help more unsheltered families and children.

Under the current definition of homelessness used by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), some families and children don’t qualify for federal housing assistance.

Senator Feinstein said the current definition is too narrow and she’s sponsoring legislation with Senator Rob Portman of Ohio to change the definition used to verify eligibility for HUD’s housing assistance programs.

According to the latest count conducted in the San Diego region, nearly 24,000 children experienced homelessness in San Diego County. Under the current HUD definition, some of those children would not qualify for federal housing aid, unless they were living in a shelter or on the street.

Feinstein’s bill would expand the housing definition of homelessness, so that families and children who have short-term stays in motels, with family members or live in their cars, would not be disqualified from federal assistance.

Jeff Davis with the San Diego Housing Commission said the bill would remove some of the bureaucratic barriers that keep families from being able to receive more substantial help for housing.

The new definition would allow families “who are in fact, without a place to stay, to continue to be considered homeless and to be able to access those permanent solutions,” Davis said.

Advocates for the homeless observed that it’s easier to obtain housing help if you are a single adult or a veteran. Amy Gonyeau, Chief Operating Officer with the Alpha Project, said this bill could give more children access to safe and secure housing.

“It would open up more resources for families because under the (updated) definition of homelessness for HUD, they would qualify for additional resources,” Gonyeau said.

According to Senator Feinstein, HUD’s narrow definition results in an undercounting of homeless families. Nationwide, HUD estimated the number of homeless families with children at 222,197, while an expanded definition used by the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services (HHS) puts the count of homeless school-aged children at 1.25 million.

Feinstein said this means HUD, which directs federal dollars for housing resources is off by a factor of five.

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