The Homeless Assistance Act


ANNCR: The Homeless Assistance Act- on today's Congressional Moment

(City sound effects) On a bitter cold late winter night in March, just outside the nation's Capitol, a group of homeless people slept on the rusty metal grates over a city steam vent. What drew attention to this common scene was that one of the people was a Congressman, Stewart McKinney of Connecticut. He worked with the homeless throughout his career to improve their lot in life, and he slept outdoors with them to call public attention to their plight.

McKinney's ongoing efforts, coupled with the growing number of homeless, brought the issue to the forefront of Congressional debate during the mid 1980s. A pivotal question was whether homelessness was a problem warranting federal intervention. Many argued that it should continue to be handled at the local level.

The Homeless Assistance Act, co-authored by McKinney and Minnesota Representative Bruce Vento, provided many forms of federal assistance, including emergency shelters, health care, job training, and education for homeless children. It addressed the symptoms of a greater problem, with even strong supporters of the bill saying it was just a first step.

The bill passed Congress with bipartisan support, and on July 22, 1987, President Ronald Reagan signed the bill – renamed in McKinney's honor – into law.

Two months earlier, Congressman McKinney had died of pneumonia. Many believe that sleeping outdoors with the homeless worsened his medical conditions and contributed to his early demise.

STANDARD CLOSING: This is Lee Hamilton. Congressional decisions impact all our lives. To find out more about how Congress works, or to get involved in your government, visit the Center On Congress Web site at