Brandon Dunlap (left) – one of the first of 29 students to win a college scholarship from CCH – testified in Washington, D.C. today on behalf of a bill that would ensure that all homeless students could qualify for housing assistance and services.
Rep. Judy Biggert (R-Hinsdale) has introduced the “Homeless Children and Youth Act of 2011” (H.R. 32), which seeks to have the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) expand its definition of when a child or teen qualifies as homeless.
For example, HUD does not recognize that those who double-up in the homes of others to avoid being on the street or in a shelter are also homeless – yet the U.S. Department of Education and public schools across the country recognize doubled-up students as being homeless.
Rep. Biggert’s bill would expand HUD’s definition of a homeless person to include all children and youth who are verified as homeless by other government agencies, including their public school’s homeless liaison, Head Start or homeless youth programs. That change would allow children and their families to qualify for HUD housing and support services.
“During the 2008-09 school year, the Department of Education identified nearly 1 million more homeless kids than HUD identified,” said Biggert, co-chair of the House caucus on homelessness. “Whether they are in a motel or jumping from couch to couch, these kids need help. Under my bill, a child working with the homeless liaison at a local school district could access transitional housing from HUD without fighting through a new layer of federal bureaucracy.”
One of six formerly homeless youth to testify, Brandon Dunlap earned a bachelor’s degree from Kendall College last year and works at the Union League Club of Chicago. Now 25, Brandon has been self-supporting since age 16, when his mother abandoned him after an eviction. During his last two years at Curie High School, Brandon had to move every few nights among seven different places, until he was able to move into his college dorm.
“In high school, I couldn’t do things that other kids did, like sports and extracurricular activities…I went to school, I worked at Subway throughout high school, and I spent time trying to find a place to stay each night,” Brandon said.
In his remarks, Brandon said he got key help from his Curie culinary teacher, Rhonda Purwin. Ms. Purwin’s recommendation helped Brandon win scholarships from CCH, Kendall College and chef Charlie Trotter. (She also went on to help CCH expand its scholarship program through a generous challenge grant.)
“Rhonda always showed genuine care for me. She helped me with competitions, writing essays, getting scholarships, getting into culinary camp and college. However, she was not able to help me with my housing situation,” Brandon wrote in his written testimony, adding that H.R. 32 would help schools connect homeless students to housing programs.
The original definition of homeless used by HUD was established in 1987, when the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act was first enacted. Congress has taken steps to expand the McKinney-Vento definition through legislation championed by Rep. Biggert and signed into law in 2002 and 2009.
CCH honored Rep. Biggert for her national leadership on homeless issues at its annual meeting in 2007.
Associate Law Director Patricia Nix-Hodes accompanied Brandon on the trip to Washington, and both worked with the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth (NAEHCY).
– Anne Bowhay, Media Coordinator
– Photos courtesy of Rep. Biggert’s office