Washington, D.C. The nation's leading advocates for homeless people marked the 10th anniversary of the Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act with a call for a White House Commission on Homelessness.
The executive directors of five national groups that address homelessness were joined by homeless and formerly homeless people and the widow of Stewart B. McKinney in a calling for a renewed federal commitment to address the structural causes of homelessness.
"The McKinney Act provides critical services which are literally saved the lives of many Americans and enabled them to escape homelessness and its underlying problems," said John Lozier, Executive Director of the National Health Care for the Homeless Council.
The Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act was the first and is still the only comprehensive federal response to the emergence of mass homelessness in the early 1980s. The Act created new federal programs and modified existing programs to address the emergency needs of homeless people. The McKinney Act was signed into law by President Reagan on July 22, 1987. The legislation was named after the late U.S. Representative Stewart B. McKinney, R-CT.
In her statement, Lucy McKinney said, "Only weeks before he died, my husband spent the night on a subway grate to demonstrate the plight of the homeless. Until the promise of the McKinney Act is redeemed, he sleeps there still."
During the 1992 Presidential campaign, candidate Clinton pledged to hold a White House Conference on Homelessness as part of his plan to address homelessness. "Five years later, there has been no White House Conference and homelessness has increased," said Maria Foscarinis of the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. "The President should establish a White House Commission to examine the policies which reproduce homelessness and should develop a strategic plan to ensure that adequate housing, incomes, health care and social services are available in other significant barriers to employment.
The government should implement a set of policies and programs utilizing direct subsidies and the tax code to ensure that all low income Americans have access to housing which does not cost them more than 30% of their income.
The McKinney Act program that converts vacant federal property to homeless assistance should be expanded.
Federal programs to provide emergency shelter, transitional and permanent housing to homeless persons should be reauthorized, with funding set at $1.6 billion annually.
Employment and income-Poor persons should have income sufficient to afford housing.
To eliminate homelessness, the federal disability payments should be at least enough to bring recipients' incomes up to the poverty line. The federal minimum wage should lift the average family out of poverty. Elderly and disabled poor people should be eligible for federal welfare benefits adequate to their basic needs.
A couple of interim measures should be that no one who is unable to find work should lose food stamps. The federal government, including the Social Security Administration and The Department of Veterans' Affairs should conduct outreach to help homeless persons obtain those benefits, such as food stamps, Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) disability and veterans benefits, for which they may qualify.
The IRS should conduct outreach to working homeless persons to inform them about the Earned Income Tax Credit- a refundable tax credit for working homeless persons. Services- Adequate services should be available to help poor persons achieve long term stability.
Education: To eliminate homelessness:
Federally funded adult education programs should be available and accessible to those in need. Adequate Federal funding, including transportation dollars, should be provided to eliminate barriers for children to participate in Head Start, primary, and secondary schools programs.
The government should ensure that all pubic schools provide access to a free, appropriate public education for homeless children, including pre-school age children. Health Care: Comprehensive health care services must be available to all poor persons, without regard to age, employment status, ability to pay or nature of disability. Substance abuse and mental health disorders must be treated on the same basis as other diseases. Treatment must always include provision for housing.
Disability benefits should not be withheld on account of the nature of the disability. Interim measure: The entitlement to Medicaid must be preserved and expanded. Medicaid managed care arrangements to accommodate the difficult circumstances of homeless persons and health care providers must be paid the reasonable costs of providing appropriate care for populations with special needs. The McKinney Act's Projects in Assistance for Transition from Homeless (PATH) mental health program must be increased from $20 million to $40 million in FY 98.
A federal substance abuse treatment program for homeless people must be created and funded. Federally funded institutions must include housing in their residents' discharge plans. The VA should not deny health care to homeless veterans who are not enrolled in the A VA styled managed care system. Non-Discrimination - Discrimination against homeless persons must be eliminated.
McKinney Act: Joint Policy Proposals. To eliminate homelessness: The federal government should encourage local governments to adopt measures t o address the causes of homelessness. E.g. raise local monies to fund housing, job programs and health care, support the housing and services for low-income persons. Interim measures: The government should prohibit discrimination against homeless persons such as anti sleeping ordinances and other laws that punish homeless persons for being in public that provide housing or services to homeless persons.
Barriers to voting and registration of homeless persons should be moved. These federal policy proposals are supported by: The National Alliance to End Homelessness; the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans; the National Coalition for the Homeless; the National Health Care for the Homeless Council; the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty; and the Stewart B. McKinney Foundation.
Copyright for the Homeless Grapevine Issue 23 October 1997