Almost one quarter of homeless people in the United States are children, and they and their parents are the fastest-growing segment of the homeless population, according to an article on a recent study of homeless children in shelters in Los Angeles County. Reported in the American Journal of Public Health (February 1994), this study found that few homeless children escaped emotional, behavioral, and academic problems and few received help for them.
About 170 children were evaluated, and most parents in the study (93 percent) were minority women living in extreme poverty (annual income under $10,000). More than a third (37 percent) of the children had depression scores high enough to warrant a psychiatric evaluation, and more than a quarter (28 percent) were in the borderline range for serious behavioral problems.
Few of the children were receiving any treatment; and among those depressed enough to warrant psychiatric evaluation, only about one-quarter (30 percent) had ever received counseling. The researchers suggest that mental health and education services should be part of a comprehensive package of services for homeless children.
Advocates for housing for people with severe mental illness should be alert to a significant change in the way monies from certain key federal housing programs will be administered and awarded at local levels.
Under the "Consolidated Plan" recommended by HUD and approved by Congress, four distinct housing and community development funding streams have been combined into one massive program. These four programs are the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), HOME, Emergency Shelter Grant (ESG) and Housing Opportunities for People with Aids (HOPWA).
Authority will be vested in local communities to develop one consolidated plan to identify priorities for spending monies from this large new program. Communities will be required to hold public hearings and seek input from local advocates as they develop these plans. Local Comprehensive Housing Affordability Strategy (CHAS) plans have been eliminated and folded into this larger planning process.
The new consolidated planning process is potentially problematic in that it creates possible competition for these federal monies among a large number of advocates for various low-income interests. However, it also creates opportunities for advocates on behalf of housing for people with severe mental illness to be at the table when crucial planning and funding decisions occur.
Historically, in many local jurisdictions, little money from the four programs included in the consolidation have been used for housing for people with severe mental illness.
During the recently completed session, Congress also considered legislation that would have consolidated all funding streams within the McKinney Act into one large block grant. This legislation did not pass, but it is expected to be taken up again when the new Congress reconvenes.
Information about local consolidated planning processes should be available from low-income housing advocates in your communities. NAMI housing advocates are urged to participate in the development of these plans. Additional information about the Consolidated Plan and the possible creation of a McKinney block grant will be provided in a future issue of the NAMI Advocate.
by Ron Honberg
director, NAMI Legal Affairs