The McKinney-Vento Act: 30 Years Later

Thirty years ago, during the Regan Administration, a bipartisan effort from both houses of congress banded together to create sweeping legislation that encompassed many support services for individuals experiencing homelessness. What we now know as ‘The McKinney-Vento Act‘ was born out of these national safety net bills. Known as “An Act to provide urgently needed assistance to protect and improve the lives and safety of the homeless, with special emphasis on elderly persons, handicapped persons, and families with children.”

McKinney-Vento, so named after the legislation’s chief Republican sponsor, Representative Stewart B. McKinney (1971-1987) of Connecticut, and long-time supporter Democratic Representative, Bruce Vento (1977-2000) from Minnesota has been the law of the land for 30 years! So what has this done for us?

The McKinney-Vento act included a multitude of meaningful legislative movements, but one of the most profound was in the very beginning in a statement of Congressional Findings:

The Congress finds that —

  1. 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;
  2. 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;
  3. the causes of homelessness are many and complex, and homeless individuals have diverse needs;
  4. 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;
  5. 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
  6. 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.

The next important thing the act provided were the parameters of what Congress felt precisely defined homelessness:

  • Children and youth sharing housing due to loss of housing, economic hardship or a similar reason
  • Children and youth living in motels, hotels, trailer parks, or camp grounds due to lack of alternative accommodations
  • Children and youth living in emergency or transitional shelters
  • Children and youth abandoned in hospitals
  • Children and youth whose primary nighttime residence is not ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation (e.g. park benches, etc)
  • Children and youth living in cars, parks, public spaces, abandoned buildings, substandard housing, bus or train stations
  • Migratory children and youth living in any of the above situations

McKinney-Vento goes on to establish and describe the functions of the Interagency Council on the Homeless, an independent entity within the Executive Branch composed of the heads of 15 federal agencies. Within the council were created numerous programs, most notably were:

Over the last 30 years, many of these programs have morphed, changed, and merged into new and more expansive programs. What began as 15 agencies has expanded to 19. Nearly every corner of our government has a part to play in the effort to overcome extreme poverty and homelessness. Yet despite the laudable goals of McKinney-Vento, these programs are still underfunded to meet the real level of need in our communities – and they are under attack. Under the proposed federal budget, funding for many for many of these programs would be reduced or eliminated. This despite the fact that homelessness and the lack of affordable housing is as massive a crisis as it has ever been.  

Contact your state and federal representatives to urge them not to abandon the progress made thanks in part to the McKinney-Vento Act — Urge them to finish the work that it began, and to fully fund human needs and fight any cuts to these programs!!! To find your representatives:

State Assembly & Senate

U.S. Congress

U.S. Senate