By Paul R. Pace, News staff
Cynthia Fernan came to Capitol Hill on a chilly January morning and informed federal lawmakers that she is an employed 19-year-old student from the Focus Learning Academy Southwest in Columbus, Ohio.
“I am also a couch surfer,” she said.
Fernan is homeless and has been for a few years. She relies on social media and friends to find new places to stay. She and other teens from the Columbus region traveled to Washington to put faces on the nation’s estimated 1.2 million homeless students.
“Close your eyes for a minute and imagine if you were 16 or 17 and kicked out of your house,” Fernan said. “Or you were being abused and had to leave. Or your family was homeless and could no longer take care of you.”
Fernan shared examples of the challenges she and her homeless friends face at a congressional briefing to discuss support of the Homeless Children and Youth Act (S. 256, H.R. 576).
NASW supports passage of the bipartisan bill, which seeks to:
- Expand the homeless definition and allow HUD homeless assistance programs to serve extremely vulnerable children and youth, specifically those staying in motels or in doubled up situations because they have nowhere else to go.
- Provide communities with the flexibility to use federal funds to meet local priorities.
- Improve data collection transparency by requiring HUD to report data on homeless individuals and families recorded under the existing Homeless Management Information System survey.
U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Rob Portman, R-Ohio, as well as U.S. Reps. Steve Stivers, R-Ohio, and Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, sponsored the briefing.
“Homeless children and youth are excluded from HUD’s definition of homeless, which makes it harder for them to get help,” Stivers said. “We need to fix that. This bill will streamline the process and amend the definition of homelessness to include youth homelessness.”
Joan Levy Zlotnik, director of the NASW Social Work Policy Institute, said it important that NASW support the bill.
“Ensuring that the needs of homeless youth are not only recognized, but that communities have more opportunity and flexibility to create effective programs will go a long way to improving outcomes for these youth,” Zlotnik said.
From the March 2015 NASW News.