Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Homeless Kids Offer Reality Check to Congress

Photo (C) Pat Van Doren, HEAR US
[Naperville, IL 12/13/11] Domestic violence. Poverty. Poor housing conditions. Disaster. These and other critical issues will be front and center on Thursday to members of the U.S. House of Representative's Financial Services Subcommittee, chaired by Congresswoman Judy Biggert (R-13,IL) as members consider barriers for homeless families and youth seeking help.

Children and youth who have experienced homelessness will be the key testifiers as the committee considers the implementation of new HUD regulations that many advocates feel will cause even more hardship for homeless families and youth. HEAR US Inc., a national Naperville-based nonprofit, will participate in the event. Diane Nilan, HEAR US president, invited an 11-year-old boy to share the story of his family's nomadic existence.

Mrs. Biggert has championed the cause of homeless children and youth since being elected to Congress in 1998, leading the way for passage of comprehensive legislation, based on the IL Education for Homeless Children Act, that removes barriers commonly encountered by homeless kids trying to get an education. She's introduced HR 32 to change the way HUD defines homelessness. She and Nilan have worked together on this issue for over a dozen years.

Since November 2005, Nilan, under the banner of her nonprofit HEAR US, has been on the road chronicling homelessness, concentrating on non-urban families and youth. She and Professor Laura Vazquez, NIU School of Communication, have made several documentaries on this issue. Nilan will again set off, stopping in DC on Thursday, then heading south for her 7th cross-country journey. Nilan lives in, works out of and travels solo in her road-weary motorhome.

An uncharacteristic amount of attention is being focused on the soaring growth of homelessness and poverty. The National Center on Family Homelessness released their report homeless families indicating at least 1.6 million children now experience homelessness. 

And Thursday, 12/15, the U. S. Conference of Mayors issues their assessment of homelessness and hunger. Nilan led a campaign to strengthen this highly-cited report, which according to her, relies on abysmally inaccurate data that complies with the very narrow HUD definition of homelessness. "It will be the same old, same old report," she fears.

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