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The McKinney–Vento Homeless Assistance Act of 1987 (Pub. L. 100-77, July 22, 1987, 101 Stat. 482, 42 U.S.C. § 11301 et seq.) is a United States federal law that provides federal money for homeless shelter programs. It was the first significant federal legislative response to homelessness, and was passed and signed into law by President Ronald Reagan on July 22, 1987. The act has been reauthorized several times over the years.
The McKinney Act originally had fifteen programs providing a spectrum of services to homeless people, including the Continuum of Care Programs: the Supportive Housing Program, the Shelter Plus Care Program, and the Single Room Occupancy Program, as well as the Emergency Shelter Grant Program.
It established the Interagency Council on the Homeless (later called the Interagency Council on Homelessness). The legislation has been amended several times since it was first written and enacted.
The following are the findings and purpose from the law as of January 6, 1999:
- (a) Findings
- The Congress finds that —
- the Nation faces an immediate and unprecedented crisis due to the lack of shelter for a growing number of individuals and families, including elderly persons, handicapped persons, families with children, Native Americans, and veterans;
- the problem of homelessness has become more severe and, in the absence of more effective efforts, is expected to become dramatically worse, endangering the lives and safety of the homeless;
- the causes of homelessness are many and complex, and homeless individuals have diverse needs;
- there is no single, simple solution to the problem of homelessness because of the different sub-populations of the homeless, the different causes of and reasons for homelessness, and the different needs of homeless individuals;
- due to the record increase in homelessness, States, units of local government, and private voluntary organizations have been unable to meet the basic human needs of all the homeless and, in the absence of greater Federal assistance, will be unable to protect the lives and safety of all the homeless in need of assistance; and
- the Federal Government has a clear responsibility and an existing capacity to fulfill a more effective and responsible role to meet the basic human needs and to engender respect for the human dignity of the homeless.
- (b) Purpose
- It is the purpose of this chapter —
- to establish an Interagency Council on the Homeless;
- to use public resources and programs in a more coordinated manner to meet the critically urgent needs of the homeless of the Nation; and
- to provide funds for programs to assist the homeless, with special emphasis on elderly persons, handicapped persons, families with children, Native Americans, and veterans.
The original federal Act, known as simply as the McKinney Act, provided little protection for homeless children in the area of public education. As a result, the State of Illinois passed the Illinois Education for Homeless Children Act, which was drafted by Joseph Clary, an attorney and advocate for the Illinois Coalition to End Homelessness. Clary then worked with national advocates to ensure that the protections afforded to homeless children by the Illinois statute were incorporated into the McKinney Act. That point, the McKinney Act was amended to become the McKinney-Vento Act. That Act uses the Illinois statute in defining homeless children as “individuals who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence.” The Act then goes on to give examples of children who would fall under this definition:
Following the Illinois statute, the McKinney-Vento Act also ensures homeless children transportation to and from school free of charge, allowing children to attend their school of origin (last school enrolled or the school they attended when they first become homeless) regardless of what district the family resides in. It further requires schools to register homeless children even if they lack normally required documents, such as immunization records or proof of residence. To implement the Act, States must designate a statewide homeless coordinator to review policies and create procedures, including dispute resolution procedures, to ensure that homeless children are able to attend school. Local school districts must appoint Local Education Liaisons to ensure that school staff are aware of these rights, to provide public notice to homeless families (at shelters and at school) and to facilitate access to school and transportation services.
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The McKinney-Vento Act is a conditional funding act which means that the federal government gives grants to states and, in return, the grantee states are bound by the terms of the act. If a state chooses not to accept federal funds for these purposes, it does not have to implement the act.
While some states are amply complying with the Act, others are falling short. The failures of states to adequately implement the act—removing barriers to enrollment and developing transportation systems—has been the subject of numerous lawsuits. The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty successfully litigated cases against the District of Columbia and the State of New York. See Lampkin v. District of Columbia, 27 F.3d 605 (D.C. Cir. 1993); remanded to trial at 879 F. Supp. 116 (D. D.C. 1995); Nat’l Law Ctr. on Homelessness and Poverty v. New York, 224 F.R.D. 314 (E.D.N.Y. 2004). (In Lampkin, the District initially rejected further federal money to avoid complying with the act. Ultimately, however, the District changed its position and began receiving federal funds and more meaningfully implementing the act). A case has also been successfully litigated in Maryland. See Bullock v. Maryland, 210 F.R.D. 556 (D. Md 2002). Other cases are currently being litigated around the country, including an action against the State of Hawaii, brought by the ACLU Foundation of Hawaii and Lawyers for Equal Justice, alleging wholesale violations of the Act. Kaleuati v. Tonda, CV07-504 (D. Haw).