Some Congressional Hearts Are in the Right Place; But Homeless Kids Will Still Suffer

There was a demonstration this week in Washington D.C. hosted by the National Alliance of HUD Tenants in front of the CCNV -- Community for Creative Non-Violence -- homeless shelter. NAHT is a loosely connected group of tenant representatives who share a few commonalities. They are housed in privately owned housing all across the nation and their rent is subsidized by the federal government.

HUD programs provide income to landlords when economic realities place their otherwise unaffordable properties within the reach of millions of Americans.

Recent congressional budget impasses prompted folks from all across the country to organize in front of the capital's largest homeless shelter.

Charlotte Delgado, president of the West, NAHT journeyed from Sacramento, CA. Charlotte argued that the proposed cuts in housing programs imperiled her ability -- and that of others -- to have a home. She said her poverty should not compel her to live on the street. And she believes she's paid the price for such protections. Charlotte sent all seven of her sons to Vietnam and only four returned. The names of the other three, Charlotte explained, "Are on the wall of the memorial just a few blocks away."

According to NAHT, HR 1, the original budget that was passed in the House of Representatives and rejected by the Senate "cuts $5.4 billion from HUD programs, including rent vouchers for 10,000 homeless veterans and 10,000 more for disabled tenants living in HUD assisted housing. It cuts another $1.6 billion from Public Housing and 2/3 from housing programs for cities, the elderly and disabled."

Rally presenter, J.R. Flemming from the Coalition to Stop Evictions and a Public Housing resident leader from Chicago Illinois decried HR 1's, "budget cuts filled with hate for the poor of this country." Flemming continued, "This is inhumane, this is not an issue for the republican party, this is not an issue for the democratic party, this is an issue for we-the-people because poverty knows no party, it knows no race, it knows no age."

A short walk up and over capitol hill from the CCNV shelter -- past the Supreme Court and the halls of Congress -- are the offices of the U.S. Senators and Representatives where a briefing hosted by the Congressional Caucus on Homelessness highlighted the problematic lives of children who have no home.

Caucus Co-founder and Co-chair Congresswoman Judy Biggert (R-IL) issued a press release coincidental to the NAHT rally announcing, "a new push for legislation designed to keep homeless kids in school and better meet the educational needs of a fast-growing population of homeless youth."

Biggert's Bill, HR 1253, "an act to amend subtitle B of title VII of the McKInney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act to provide education for homeless children and youths, and for other purposes," would effectively expand the current definition of homelessness to include the folks living in motels and "doubled up" in over crowded situations. Current homeless definitions restrict school liaisons and other McKinney-Vento homeless assistance programs from being able to help people living that way.

Biggert and two of her collegues, Congressman Alcee Hastings (D-FL) and Congressman Geoff Davis (R-KY) were both in attendance at the hearing as advocates for homeless youth discussed the work being done in the nation to assist these kids and their families.

Later as a cold rain fell in the U.S. capital where -- according to Kid's Count Data Center and tallied the old fashioned way -- more than eleven thousand homeless individuals and families live; Biggert hosted a screening of "On the Edge" a film documentary produced by homeless advocate and Biggert constituent Diane Nilan.

Biggert's passion for educating disadvantaged children enticed HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan to attend the screening along with several dozen congressional staffers.

Donovan stayed after and answered questions about how the budget impasse in congress had effectively halted the progress made in efforts to eliminate homelessness over recent years.

Biggert says her bill is important because more kids without homes in the U.S. will be able stay in school and maintain what is, "often the only source of stability and security" in their lives.

When asked about voting for HR 1 and the massive cuts to public housing that NAHT protested less than a mile away; Biggert explained that she supported cutting the deficit, and she voted for the cuts even though many were at cross purposes to her bill. Biggert explained, "there's going to be pain for everybody" and that homeless advocacy "never had enough money in the first place."