The Legacy of McKinney-Vento

This Sunday, July 22, marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, the first major federal legislation to address homelessness.  As I explained in my recent Huffington Post piece, it’s a bittersweet occasion.

McKinney-Vento programs have helped millions of people end their homelessness. It’s created legal rights—such as the right of homeless children to an education—that help break the cycle of homelessness and poverty. Every day, programs funded by the Act prove that homelessness in America can be solved.

But it has not been solved, and homelessness today is at record levels. Dramatic increases, fueled by the foreclosure crisis and the economic downturn, are sending more and more people—especially families and children—into homelessness. In fact, the McKinney-Vento Act was never intended to end homelessness by itself—it was meant to be a first step only.

To end homelessness, we must do two things. First, we must protect and implement the victories we’ve won over these past 25 years– including the McKinney-Vento Act itself. Because while many of the original McKinney-Vento programs have increased in funding, albeit insufficiently, some have been cut. One is now fighting for its life in Congress. Title V of the Act, which makes unused federal properties available to homeless service providers at no cost—to use for shelter, housing, and service programs.

Second, we must keep our eye on a bigger, longer-term goal: ensuring the human right to housing here in the U.S. As advocates, we’re often told that making change is not “politically realistic.” That’s what we were told in 1986, when homelessness when we first started advocating for a federal response to homelessness. Then, it was viewed as an issue for charities or, at most, local government. But we persisted, and the next year the McKinney-Vento Act became law.

Now we need to do it again. Homelessness cannot be solved just by funding a few good programs. Rather, law and policy must ensure that everyone has a safe affordable place to live. It’s time to recognize the human right to housing here at home.

– Maria Foscarinis, Executive Director

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