In January, The National Network to End Family Homelessness highlighted how the HCYA aligns the US Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) definition of homelessness with provider experience, data, and research. We also looked at how the HCYA impacts your work as a provider[1]. This month, we focus on the issue of vulnerability and how the HCYA ensures families and children have greater access to HUD assistance.

Opponents of the HCYA argue that it expands eligibility for HUD’s homeless services without expanding funding, and by doing so makes it less likely that funds are dedicated to “the most vulnerable” populations. This critique doesn’t accurately reflect changes made through the HCYA[2]. It also doesn’t recognize the vulnerability of children, youth and families experiencing homelessness, and the ways in which HUD’s current policies fail them.

Although local communities identify youth and family homelessness as urgent and growing priorities, HUD undercounts the number of families experiencing homelessness and underestimates the immediate and long-term consequences of homelessness for this population[3].Over 90 percent of mothers experiencing homelessness carry trauma histories, while adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) among low-income youth, including youth experiencing homelessness, are common. Children with four or more ACEs are two to five times more likely to develop learning disabilities, substance use disorders, clinical depression, suicidality, and numerous chronic health conditions including cancer, cardiovascular problems, and respiratory diseases compared to children with no ACEs.

Additionally, Chapin Hall’s study on youth homelessness reflected that nearly half of the respondents considered their homeless situations – which included staying with others temporarily out of necessity – to be unsafe, subjecting them to risk of abuse, trafficking and other dangerous circumstances[4]. Research also suggests that families living doubled-up – who are currently excluded from HUD’s definition of homelessness and funding priorities –  often experience a greater number of barriers to needed services than families living in shelter[5]. Such data suggests that youth and families who are living in homeless situations that are not covered by the HUD definition are as vulnerable as those who do meet the HUD definition, as well as other subsets of the homeless population.

Based on this data, the HCYA requires communities that establish coordinated assessment systems to include specific, age-appropriate criteria for assessing the safety and needs of children under age five, school-age children, and unaccompanied youth and young adults between 14 and 25 years of age. In addition, it makes eligible families for assistance that are currently excluded by HUD’s limited definition of homelessness. This means, more vulnerable families become eligible for funding through HUD, and their priority would still be determined through the vulnerability assessments administered in each Continuum of Care.

Overall, the HCYA ensures that homeless children and families are eligible for HUD services, regardless of where they happened to find a place to stay, and that communities have accurate data and numbers to reflect the experiences of these families.

How you can help:

We encourage National Network members to learn more about the HCYA. At the Help Homeless Children and Youth website, you can find out who your elected officials are, and see how to call or write them. We also encourage you to reach out to your local officials in person. Please contact Barbara Duffield, Co-Chair of the Network’s Policy Committee, if you have any questions about the HCYA.


[1]To access these earlier briefs, go to the resources tab in the National Network to End Family Homelessness membership portal or email Avery Brien at

[2]The HCYA expands the vulnerability tools to ensure thatlocal Continuums of Care consider factors specific to children and youth that are unrelated to what type of homelessness they experience (e.g. staying in shelter versus living doubled-up or staying in a motel). The HCYA also ensures that Continuums of Care incorporate measures related to kids. Other than these changes to ensure inclusion of all homeless youth and families, the HCYA does not change current vulnerability tools used to establish priority, and those who are the most vulnerable will continue to be a priority for assistance.



[5]Miller, Peter. (2015) Families’ Experiences in Different Homeless and Highly Mobile Settings: Implications for School and Community Practice. Education and Urban Society, 47, 3–32: