COLUMBUS, Ohio (WSYX/WTTE) — Democrats and Republicans in both the House and Senate signed on to a bill Tuesday cutting through some bureaucratic red tape to help homeless children.
The bill changes the definition of "homeless" at the Department of Housing and Urban Development to include minors.
"The best way to fix it is to define the problem," said Rep. Steve Stivers, R - Upper Arlington, who is sponsoring the bill along with a Democrat from Iowa. "Today, homeless youth issues are not funded at all because they're not even defined as homelessness, but we all know there are homeless youth. We've met them."
Cynthia Fernan spoke at a tour of the Huckleberry House in the University District with Stivers and Rep. Joyce Beatty, D - Columbus. The Huckleberry House gives homeless teenagers a place to stay. Fernan said she had been crashing on the couches of friends for years.
"It was really hard going to school knowing that I don't know exactly where I'm going when I leave from school and where my next meal is coming from," she said.
Fernan would have only been considered homeless after she turned 18.
"I know a lot of people in my situation and they're just like, 'what do I do?'" she said.
Supporters of the bill said children can be particularly at risk if they're homeless.
"It's a very dangerous situation," said Becky Westerfeld, the executive director of the Huckleberry House. "There are predators out there who would be happy to have these kids stay with them."
Stivers tried to pass the same bill two years ago. He said it ran into opposition from adult shelter groups, who worried about losing some of their federal funding.
"We can't let this devolve into a good fit between kids and adults," Stivers said. "That's what it was."
Stivers said he will invite the new HUD Secretary Dr. Ben Carson to Columbus to see youth homelessness for himself. He hoped Carson could visit next month.