House Republican Invites Homeless Kids to Testify: 'Children Living in Shabby Motels Deserve Help'

By Susan Jones | December 14, 2011 | 11:16 AM EST

People are shown at the Occupy Portland camp in Portland, Ore., Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2011. Occupy Wall Street protesters camping out across the country are rubbing shoulders with the actual homeless, sharing shelter and in many cases free food and medical care.(AP Photo/Don Ryan)

( - A House subcommittee is scheduled to hear testimony from homeless children on Thursday as it examines how to expand the government’s legal definition of "homeless person" to include more children.

“Children living in shabby motels or jumping from couch to couch deserve help, too," said Rep. Judy Biggert (R-Ill.), who chairs the Financial Services Subcommittee on Insurance, Housing and Community Opportunity.

"Every child should have a safe place to sleep at night and a chance at a brighter future.  That’s what this hearing is all about, and I hope my colleagues will listen closely to the stories these young witnesses, who have come from all over the country, will tell us.”

One of the witnesses is a sixth grader. Two others are in the 7th and 9th grades.

In its attempt to make more children eligible for housing assistance, the subcommittee plans to focus on the 1987 McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, which established the first statutory definition of homeless persons.

Rep. Biggert has introduced a bill that would amend the definition of “homeless person” under the McKinney-Vento Act, thereby increasing the number of children and young people who could receive housing assistance and services.

She said amending the McKinney-Vento Act would allow HUD to “more accurately estimate the number of homeless persons in the United States.”

Homelessness declining

On Tuesday, President Obama’s Department of Housing and Urban Development released a snapshot of homelessness, showing that on a single night last January, 636,017 people were counted as homeless in the United States -- a 2.1 percent decline from the year before.

The count is based on data reported by more than 3,000 cities and counties.

Housing Secretary Shawn Donovan, who personally participated in the count, said declines in homelessness were reported in every category or subpopulation -- including individuals, families, veterans and those experiencing long-term or chronic homelessness.

“It’s remarkable that in the wake of the most serious economic crisis since the Great Depression, we’re witnessing an across-the-board drop in homelessness,” Donovan said. “This tells us that the Obama Administration’s homelessness strategy is working and the results spur us to continue working to end homelessness in America once and for all.”

Children ‘verified as homeless’

As things stand now, McKinney-Vento defines homeless children as “individuals who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence.” That includes the young people who:

-- share other people’s homes because they’ve lost their own;

-- live in motels, hotels, trailer parks, or campgrounds;

-- are abandoned in hospitals or awaiting foster care placement;

-- sleep in public or private places not designed for sleeping;

-- live or sleep in cars, parks, public spaces, abandoned buildings, and substandard housing;

Biggert’s bill – the Homeless Children and Youth Act (H.R. 32) -- would expand the definition to include children or young people who have been “verified as homeless” by certain education officials, by the director of a disabilities program, or by Head Start officials.