Federal Government Aid for the Homeless - The Mckinney-vento Homelessassistance Act

program housing programs hud

Widespread public outcry over the plight of the homeless in the early 1980s prompted Congress to pass the Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act of 1987. Congress renamed the act the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act in 2000 (H.R. 5417) to honor Representative Bruce Vento's service to the homeless. The range and reach of the act has broadened over the years. Most of the money authorized by the act went, initially, toward the funding of homeless shelters. The program also funded a Supportive Housing program, a Shelter Plus Care program, and the Single Room Occupancy program in addition to the Emergency Shelter Grant program. Amendments to the act later enabled funding and other services to support permanent housing and other programs to help the homeless. HUD administers most McKinney-Vento funds.

Program Structure

In 2005 programs administered under the McKinney-Vento Act fell into three distinct categories. A cluster of activities known as the Continuum of Care (CoC) programs provided competitive grants intended to help communities and organizations provide comprehensive services to the homeless. A noncompetitive formula grant program, the Emergency Shelter Grants Program, provided funds for emergency shelters to states, large cities, urban counties, and U.S. territories. The Title V program freed properties for use to house the homeless.

Continuum of Care

According to HUD (Homeless Assistance Programs, http://www.hud.gov/offices/cpd/homeless/programs/index.cfm), the concept behind Continuum of Care programs is as follows: "A continuum of care system is designed to address the critical problem of homelessness through a coordinated community-based process of identifying needs and building a system to address those needs. The approach is predicated on the understanding that homelessness is not caused merely by a lack of shelter, but involves a variety of underlying, unmet needs—physical, economic, and social."

Nonprofit groups and local government entities applying for funds under these programs are expected to survey and assess local needs and to write a comprehensive plan for combating homelessness and meeting needs. Grant recipients are required to assess their clients' progress and make changes in the program in response to ongoing evaluation. Three major programs and some additional demonstration and rural efforts have developed over the years.


The aim of the Supportive Housing Program is to provide housing and services that will enable clients to achieve economic independence and control over their lives. SHP provides up to $400,000 in matching funds for construction of new buildings for housing homeless people; it also provides funding for the acquisition or refurbishing of existing buildings. The program underwrites 75% of the operating cost, including administration, and up to 80% of the cost of support programs. These programs must help clients achieve independence by providing skills training, child-care, education, transportation assistance, counseling, or job referrals. Elements of the program include transitional housing for twenty-four months, permanent housing for the disabled, supportive services without housing, havens for the hard-to-reach and the mentally ill, and other innovative programs to solve problems of homelessness.


The Shelter Plus Care Program helps agencies that specifically target the hardest-to-serve homeless: those with mental and physical disabilities living on the street or in shelters, including drug addicts and AIDS sufferers. The program provides for rental assistance funded by HUD and other sources. Housing in this program can be in the form of group homes or individual units with supportive services. Grant funds must be matched with local dollars. Subsidies for projects are available for ten years; assistance to sponsors and tenants is available for five years. Rental assistance includes four types of contracts:

  1. Tenant-Based Rental Assistance—Direct contract with a low-income tenant
  2. Project-Based Rental Assistance—Building owner contracts
  3. Sponsor-Based Rental Assistance—Contracts with nonprofit organizations, and
  4. SRO-Based Rental Assistance—Single room occupancy contracts provided by public housing authorities (PHAs)


Single-room occupancy housing is housing in a dormitory-style building where each person has his or her own private room but shares kitchens, bathrooms, and lounges. Single Room Occupancy Program (SRO) housing is generally the cheapest type of housing available. Funding is intended to encourage the establishment and operation of such housing. Subsidy payments fund a project for a period of ten years in the form of rental assistance in amounts equal to the rent, including utilities, minus the portion of rent payable by the tenants.


Other programs folded under the Continuum of Care designation by HUD include demonstration programs for safe havens for the homeless and innovative homeless programs as well as rural homeless housing programs.

Requirements of four HUD McKinney-Vento programs, 2002
SOURCE: Stanley Czerwinsky, "Table 3. Requirements of Four HUD McKinney-Vento Programs," in Homelessness: Improving Program Coordination and Client Access to Programs, U.S. General Accounting Office, March 2002, http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d02485t.pdf(accessed March 10, 2005)

Program requirement Emergency shelter grants Supportive housing program Shelter plus care Single-room occupancy
Type of grants Formula grant Competitive grant Competitive grant Competitive grant
Eligible applicants States
Metropolitan cities
Urban counties
Local governments
Other governmental agencies
Private nonprofit organizations
Community mental health centers that are public nonprofit organizations
Local governments
Public housing authorities
Public housing authorities
Private nonprofit organizations
Eligible program services Emergency shelter
Essential social services
Transitional housing
Permanent housing for people with disabilities
Supportive services only
Safe havens
Innovative supportive housing
Tenant based rental assistance
Sponsor based rental assistance
Project based rental assistance
Single-room occupancy based rental assistance
Single-room occupancy housing
Eligible activities Renovation/conversion
Major rehabilitation
Supportive service
Operating costs
Homelessness prevention
New construction
Operating and administrative costs
Supportive services only
Rental assistance Rental assistance
Eligible population Homeless individuals and
People at risk of becoming
Homeless individuals and families for transitional
housing and supportive services
Disabled homeless individuals for permanent
Hard-to-reach mentally ill homeless individuals
for safe havens
Disabled homeless individuals
and their families
Homeless individuals
Initial term of assistance
Matching funds
1 year
States: no match for first $100,000 and dollar-for-dollar match for rest of funds.
Local governments:dollar-for-dollar match for all funds.
Up to 3 years
Dollar-for-dollar match for acquisition, rehabilitation, and new construction grants. Operating costs must be shared by 25 percent in the first 2 years and 50 percent in the third year. A 25-percent match for supportive service grants
No match for grants used for leasing oradministrative costs.
5 or 10 years
Dollar-for-dollar match of the federal shelter grant to pay for supportive services
10 years
No match required

Emergency Shelter Grants (ESG)

The Emergency Shelter Grants program provides homeless persons with basic shelter and essential supportive services. It can assist with the operational costs of the shelter facility, and for the administration of the grant. ESG also provides short-term homeless prevention assistance to persons at imminent risk of losing their own housing due to eviction, foreclosure, or utility shutoffs.

—Emergency Shelter Grants, HUD, February 1, 2005

The ESG is HUD's formula grant program administered as a part of its community planning and development grant program. Recipients of funding are states, large cities, urban counties, and U.S. territories that have filed consolidated community development plans with HUD. ESG is called a formula program because the amounts allocated are based in part on population and poverty levels within the planning entities that participate. ESG funds flow from governmental entities to organizations that actually operate shelters and provide services. Money may be used to help individuals avoid homelessness by providing emergency funds.

Title V

HUD maintains information about and publishes listings of federal properties categorized as unutilized, underutilized, in excess, or in surplus. States, local governments, and nonprofit organizations can apply to use such properties to house the homeless. Title V does not provide funding; it provides properties to agencies for housing use. Groups may apply for funding under the Continuum of Care program to modify, refurbish, or adapt such structures for residential uses.

Consolidations, New Initiatives, and Reorganizations

HUD's programs, particularly those under Continuum of Care, have overlapping objectives yet operate under separate rules and requirements. (See Table 5.1.) The U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO), now Government Accountability Office, an investigative body of the U.S. Congress, studied the McKinney programs in 1999 and concluded that the number of programs and the differences between them create barriers to their efficient use (Homelessness: Coordination and Evaluation of Programs Are Essential, Washington, DC, 1999).


HUD's program administrators evidently reached much the same conclusions as GAO. In its fiscal year (FY) 2004 budget request to Congress (Fiscal Year 2004 Budget Summary, HUD, February 3, 2003) and again in its FY 2005 budget summary (Fiscal Year 2005 Budget Summary, February 2, 2004), HUD proposed consolidating its three major programs under Continuum of Care, along with the demonstration and rural assistance programs, into a single Homeless Assistance Grants program. The department believed that this consolidation would facilitate comprehensive delivery of services while reducing administrative expenses, both at HUD and on the part of grant recipients. President George W. Bush's proposed budget for McKinney-Vento assistance programs for FY 2006 was $1,415,000,000, up from $1,241,000,000 in FY 2005.


In 2004 HUD proposed that Congress fund a new program called the Samaritan Initiative. The new program targeted an estimated 150,000 individuals HUD considers "chronically homeless." In FY 2005 HUD received $50 million to provide housing for the chronically homeless. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs also provided services for drug abuse and health treatment.

User Comments

Your email address will be altered so spam harvesting bots can't read it easily.
Hide my email completely instead?

Cancel or

Vote down Vote up

about 6 years ago

i am homeless with and need housing i am on pa.could you please help me

Vote down Vote up

about 6 years ago

i am homeless with and need housing i am on pa.could you please help me

Vote down Vote up

over 6 years ago

i am a homeless woman

Vote down Vote up

over 6 years ago

Iam interested in asking H.U.D. to help me. single male in Seattle mentally ill on SSDI and homeless and needing a agency to help me ASAP

Thank You Dennis

Vote down Vote up

over 6 years ago

ihave nevre damage to my back,legs,feet,toes.unable to work i'm waiting for ssi to dicide.but for now i'm still seeing doctors.and i can'nt take pain meds because i had to detox and go into a rehab program for 9 mo.i compalied the program.i'm still here in a after care because i'm homeless now can'nt work no income.but i,m off the pain pills.but i'm not just laying around i have a new product idea.and i have several companies that have research the idea and want to invest in it but i also need startup money. if there anything eise you need.i'm just a click away.

Vote down Vote up

almost 7 years ago

I live in the town of Rochester and can't help but notice people living in the back of some of the Malls in cardboard boxes,There are some property in the local area that are on the market and require some refurbishing so that the homeless can have a shelter from the winter, what programs are available

Vote down Vote up

over 8 years ago

Hello and God BLess,

I was wondering about when the government may start up homeless shelters in the counties that are growing. I live in Jessamine County where homelessness is a big problem. I tried to help as much as I can, but I hate that there are people that are sleeping in their cars and on streets. If there are government grants to help get one started or what else could I do to help. I also wish that they could make a shelter that would house men women and children.