Thursday, February 19, 2015

From Chicago to DC - Homeless Youth Share Similar Challenges

On February 24th, DCAYA is partnering with OSSE, Sasha Bruce, and a number of homeless youth providers to host a screening on the critically acclaimed documentary “The Homestretch”. Following the documentary will be a panel discussion with leading homeless youth advocates on what the District and individuals can do to combat this growing problem.

“The Homestretch” follows three Chicago teens as they navigate the education and services system while struggling with the realities of homelessness. As described in The Atlantic, “the documentary demonstrates the complexity of the issue – a problem that’s often hidden from the public eye.” While different scenarios caused the film’s protagonists to become homeless – indentifying as LGBTQ, facing obstacles with immigrant status, and fleeing from stepparent abuse – the challenges these individuals face closely mirror those of D.C.’s homeless youth population.

Watch a live stream of the panel discussion at 7:30PM on Tuesday, February 24th:

Photo courtesy of "The Homestretch"

National data shows that approximately 40% of youth experiencing homelessness identify as LGBTQ. With only 10% of the total population identifying as LGBTQ, this small subset of youth represents a large proportion of the homeless population.

While better data is needed to truly understand the scope of homelessness among LGBTQ youth in DC, anecdotal evidence reflects a similar narrative to Kasey’s. In a 2011 DCAYA study on youth homelessness, one respondent wrote, “At age 17 I was kicked out and ‘disowned’ by the very family that raised me. Why, do you ask? Well, it was because of my sexuality.”

Photo courtesy of "The Homestretch"

Youth are underrepresented during the annual point-in-time count to calculate the number of homeless individuals in a city because unsurprisingly, youth do not want others to know they are homeless. High school is hard enough without dealing with the stigma of homelessness.

Even more underrepresented, however, are Latino youth because of reasons similar to Roque. Some Latino youth are forced to stay undetected and not seek services because they fear getting themselves, or their family, in trouble with immigration.  This poses a particularly difficult challenge around funding services for Latino youth because while the need is apparent, the numbers are elusive.

Photo courtesy of "The Homestretch"

During the 2014 point-in-time study conducted by the Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness, 907 families in DC were in emergency shelters – a huge jump from 464 families in 2013.  Of those families, half are young parents under 24.

With the surge in family homelessness, and young workers in DC facing a 16% unemployment rate, young parents have few options to get themselves out of a shelter and onto a path of long term stability. DC helps families exit shelter through Rapid Re-housing, a program that combines rental assistance and case management for generally up to 12 months. Rapid Re-housing programs, however, are finding that youth need more intensive case management, life skills training, and educational options in order for young parents to begin paying rent without assistance.

While further data is needed on DC’s Rapid Re-housing outcomes, the need for youth-focused transitional housing programs is clear, especially with DC expecting to see a 16% rise in family homeless this winter.

Be on the lookout for information on a large community screening happening in DC in the Spring and how you can get involved with local youth homelessness advocacy efforts. 

Watch a trailer of the film here: 

To read more about youth issues in DC you can FOLLOW us on Twitter, LIKE us on Facebook and VISIT us at

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Busting Myths On Youth Homelessness

During these busy months of advocacy season, it’s always a good idea to do a quick refresher on the basics. That’s why we’ve updated our Youth Homelessness one-pager. Take a look! The one-pager gives the basic stats on youth homelessness in DC and summarizes recent efforts to tackle the issue.

Besides just the facts and figures though, advocacy season is also an important time to identify and debunk policy myths that have been floating around. So here are the top three youth homelessness myths that we’ve heard this past the year, along with how we debunk them.

MYTH: Providing emergency shelter for youth encourages them to leave their families.

Family reunification is the top priority for DC agencies and community-based organizations. From the moment a young person walks through their door, the service providers are thinking about if, how, and when the youth can connect to family members who can support them. This is best practice and follows federal guidelines. 
Family reunification is achieved through different paths, depending on the dynamics of the situation. Sometimes functional family therapy is the best tool. Sometimes finding other relatives where the youth can stay for a period of time is the best solution. Other times the youth needs to form a therapeutic bond with service providers before they can learn to mimic that with their own family. Usually the solution is some combination of these three. 
It is important to remember, though, that family reunification is not always achievable or a good idea. One quick example is when a youth identifies as a member of the LGBTQ community and no family member is willing to support them based on their sexuality. 
Remember, these youth are not leaving home as a result of a little fight with their parents. Youth do not check into shelter like you would check into a hotel. DC homeless youth have told us that they seek services because they have nowhere else to turn.

MYTH: Youth from outside DC come into DC just to take advantage of our homelessness services.

Historic oppression, a struggling education system, and rising inequality have created a dire situation for DC youth. It is heartbreaking. Yes, youth, like most people, go in and out of the boundaries of DC every day. Homeless youth, especially, have to shuffle from family member, to friend, to acquaintance in order to find food and shelter. But make no mistake: these are our youth, and they are not “shopping around” to find the best deal. 
Sleeping on peoples’ couches, whether they are in DC or a half mile outside it, can be dangerous for a young person. Youth will tell you, receiving favors usually comes at a cost; some form of payment for sleeping on a person’s couch is eventually required, which could mean running drugs or engaging in unwanted sexual acts. We have to protect our youth and that starts by claiming them as our own.

MYTH: Youth homelessness issues should only be dealt with by the Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA).

CFSA's mandate is to remove minors (under age 18) from high-risk, domestic situations where parental abuse or neglect is reported. This unimaginably difficult work is critical to protecting DC children and youth. 
However, youth who are experiencing a hostile home environment – but not abuse or neglect – are the young people who fall through the cracks and often become homeless.  
Take the earlier example of the young person who identifies as LGBTQ. The young person may be experiencing a hostile environment because their parent or guardian does not support them based on their sexuality. This fact does not necessarily mean that the parent or guardian is abusing or neglecting their child, however, the young person is at a high-risk of leaving or feeling forced to leave and becoming homeless 
CFSA does however, have the power to refer parents of minors in low- to mid-risk situations to Community Collaboratives which provide voluntary services, such as family reunification and counseling programs. Many times though, families will not follow up with the Community Collaboratives because of a lack of trust and fear of stigma around receiving services from the child welfare system. 
This is why DC must look beyond just using CFSA as an agency to house homeless youth and work closely with community based organizations that are designed to provide services to both minors and youth up to 24 who leave their home because of reasons that fall outside of CFSA’s mandate.

Thanks for brushing up on your youth homelessness policy basics. Be sure to let us know if you’ve heard any youth homelessness policy myths floating around and tell us how you debunk them!

Katie Dunn is the youth homelessness and expanded learning policy analyst at DCAYA. You can follow learn more about youth issues in DC by following Katie on twitter at @kdunntweets.

For more on youth issues in DC you can FOLLOW us on Twitter, LIKE us on Facebook,SUBSCRIBE to this blog and VISIT us at

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Creating Career Pathways for DC Youth

Guest blogger Martha Ross is a fellow at the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program whose work focuses on education, training, and the labor market. 

This week, Martha highlights recommendations from a recently released report “Improving Youth Programs and Outcomes in Washington, D.C.”.

No one is satisfied with the educational and employment outcomes of District youth, nor should they be. Consider a few data points: 

  • Unemployment rates skyrocketed during the recession and have yet to recover, disproportionately affecting younger workers. In 2013, unemployment among teens aged 16-19 in the District stood at 34%. Among young adults aged 20-24 it was 12.3%, and among the total population it was 8.6%. 
  • Only about two-thirds of public high school students graduate in four years. 
  • Unacceptably large numbers of low-income young people with lower levels of education—about 8,300, or 9% of all young people aged 16 to 24—are “disconnected,” meaning they are neither in school nor employed. 

So what should we do? In a recent report I co-authored with Mala B. Thakur, Improving Youth Programs and Outcomes in Washington, D.C., I outline two areas for action. 

1.) Programs serving youth should use data to measure their progress towards reaching their goals.
This practice would help young people increase their skills, educational credentials, and employment outcomes.  This sounds almost laughably commonsensical but it’s harder to do than it sounds.  Most organizations serving youth are well aware of the power of data, but on any given day, data-related tasks are vulnerable to being outranked by more immediate priorities. Organizations can find it difficult to direct resources toward data and evaluation, since it usually directly competes with service delivery. 
One concrete step would be for funders to support a community of practice for service providers to improve their use of data for learning, self-evaluation, and ongoing improvement.  A community of practice is a learning partnership among people who find it useful to learn from and with each other about a particular topic.  In this case, members would be helping each other “get better at getting better.” 

2.) Use a career pathways framework to build a more coherent youth employment system. 
A career pathway provides progressive levels of education, training, and support services to prepare people for employment and career advancement. As defined by the Center for Law and Social Policy, career pathways incorporate three features: a) multiple entry points, both for the well-prepared and those with limited skills, b) well-connected education, training, and support services within specific occupational or industry-based career opportunities, and c) multiple exit points at successively higher levels of skills or more senior employment opportunities.

This recommendation focuses on improving how different organizations (adult education, K-12, community college, nonprofits) interact with each other to provide a structured sequence of education, training and other services. That’s why a task force or collaborative effort led by such entities as RAISE DC, the Workforce Investment Council, and the Office of the State Superintendent of Education could be the appropriate vehicle to lead this effort.

Essential Features of a Career Pathway System

Source:  CLASP, “Shared Vision, Strong Systems:  The Alliance for Quality Career Pathways Framework Version 1.0” (2014)

In conclusion:  The status quo demands a continuous and targeted focus on quality improvement and system-building.  Too few young people in DC meet key educational and employment milestones in the transition to adulthood. We can do better.

DCAYA would like to thank Martha Ross for contributing to our weekly blog, as well as her valuable research towards improving outcomes for District youth.

For more on youth issues in DC you can FOLLOW us on Twitter, LIKE us on Facebook,SUBSCRIBE to this blog and VISIT us at

Friday, January 23, 2015

Resources for Advocacy Season

It’s that time of year again, when the Wilson Building becomes abuzz with councilmembers and advocates meeting over issue areas, testifying at hearings, and deliberating on budget priorities. The DC Budget Season is particularly exciting though, because this is a time when community members can provide valuable input into how their city spends their tax dollars.

At the same time, these next few months can be a bit confusing, so we wrote this blog to help answer any lingering questions and offer resources to understand the DC Budget Season and how you can be involved.

Can anyone testify?

You must be a resident of the District of Columbia or work for an organization within the District of Columbia to testify. 
The Committee Chair will set the time limit for testimonies at the begin of the hearing, but often times, you get 2-3 minutes to testify. Although for some hearings, if you are representing an organization, you can get up to 5 minutes. If there are two people connected to your organization signed up to testify, however, the councilmember may choose to split your allotted time. Before testifying, you can check with the councilmember's staff to determine the length of your public testimony.  
Do note though, while you may have a limited time to speak on record, your written testimony may be any length. Written testimonies are very important for the councilmember to have on record so they can refer to it when questioning agency staff and use it as a resource to propose budget marks to council colleagues. Remember to bring 15 copies of your testimony to provide to the committee chairperson and committee members for their records.

How do you sign-up to testify?

You can call the councilmember's office, email the committee staffer, or sign-up online.  
On the day of the hearing, an official agenda with the list of people testifying is published on the DC Council website. From there, you can see whether you will be testifying near the beginning, middle, or end of the hearing so you can plan your day accordingly. Just be cautious, as committee chairs can jump around the agenda when people are absent, late, or added.

How should your testimony be structured?

Some of the most compelling testimonies are from community members who share their personal stories with councilmembers. Watch this powerful testimony of a young DC mom: (skip to 7:47). 
As advocates, we have the data sets and policy recommendations to really backup personal stories with concrete solutions. To make your testimony more robust, however, we recommend adding one recommendation to the end of your story which you can find in our Advocacy Agenda of 2015.

The general structure of a testimony would be:
  • Thank the Chairperson of the committee and the other councilmember’s in the room.
  • State your name and what Ward you live in and why you are testifying. 
  • Tell a piece of your story that will capture the councilmembers’ attention.
  • Explain why one recommendation resonates with your experience. 
  • Re-thank the Chairperson for listening to your testimony. 


For more on youth issues in DC you can FOLLOW us on Twitter, LIKE us on Facebook,SUBSCRIBE to this blog and VISIT us at

Friday, January 16, 2015

5 Youth Advocacy Trends to Watch in 2015

Today, DC Alliance of Youth Advocates releases our 2015 Advocacy Agenda! Like every year, there are bureaucratic hurdles to jump and procedural barriers to break to ensure the needs of young people are properly being met. So let’s hop to it, we’ve got quite the advocacy season ahead of us!

Also, don’t forget to check out DCAYA’s full advocacy agenda for the coming year. We will need the power of your voice to truly make lasting change!

Holistic Funding to Curb Family Homelessness

One important youth area to watch in this budget season is funding around family homelessness. Nearly half of the homeless families currently in the shelter system are youth-headed. DC General and two hotel buildings are almost at capacity for sheltering families, and more families continue to enter the system daily during hypothermia season. There are several budget items that have an impact on alleviating family homelessness: a plan to close DC General, the Local Rent Supplement Program, Permanent Supportive Housing, Rapid Re-Housing, the Housing Production Trust Fund, year-round access to shelter, public housing, funding the Dignity Bill, and more. Overall, we will be working closely with all of our advocacy partners to ensure that every piece of the homelessness budget puzzle is put in place to help young families find and keep affordable housing.

Increasing Local Investments to Expanded Learning Programs

In 2015, DCAYA is focused on increasing local funding to expanded learning programs. Currently, the District heavily relies on federal funds, namely the 21st Century Community Learning grants, to support its afterschool programs. With a new Congress in place, there are increased concerns that the 21st Century grants will either be drastically cut or completely eliminated in the upcoming federal budget. DC must be prepared to protect its investments in education. We must begin adding local funds to ensure that the infrastructure and program implementation of critical expanded learning programs are not lost because of federal funding fluctuations.

Continued Collaboration to Amp Up Youth Workforce Development Programming

This year, DCAYA is driving home our commitment to high-quality, year round workforce development opportunities for youth across the District by co-facilitating the first-ever Youth Workforce Leaders Academy (YWLA) cohort. DCAYA and our partners are convening leaders in the youth workforce sphere in a unique peer learning environment to scale up best practices and locally-informed solutions across DC. Especially in light of the implementation of new federal youth workforce legislation this summer (the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act), it’s a great time to come together as a community to discuss what’s been working and where improvements can be made, both organizationally and system-wide.

We look forward to the creative partnerships, professional networks, and increased organizational resources that will result from YWLA for years to come!

Easing Access to Youth Development Opportunities through Transportation Subsidies 

Look for a strong advocacy front around expanding the District’s transportation subsidy programs to include youth. DCAYA’s Connecting Youth to Opportunity report demonstrated that transportation proves to be a pervasive barrier to youth accessing youth development programs, school, and workforce opportunities. According to the study, over 33% of respondents reported spending over $30 a week or $120 a month on transportation. Based on reported income data, this suggests youth are spending between 15-30% of their monthly income on transportation alone.

In partnership with our colleagues at Raise DC’s Disconnected Youth Change Network, we’ll be presenting our policy recommendations to Mayor Bowser’s team and council staff during the 2015 budget season.
Increased Use of Visual Data to Break Down Wonky Policy Asks

Policy analysts and funders alike are realizing that white papers and data sets are necessary to our mission, but can leave out a large advocacy audience.

Last year, DCAYA experienced firsthand the influential power of visual tools when we invested time into creating an infographic to explain the gaps in homeless youth services. The effort paid off as councilmembers publically commended the infographic and asked the advocacy community to continue using visuals to breakdown our, at times, complicated policy asks.

Look for additional visuals this year as we delve into the issues facing young people and be sure to get involved with our advocacy campaigns via social media to continue growing our strong advocacy front.

So on that note, please follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook, and sign-up for our Newsletter so you are always up-to-date on what is happening in the youth advocacy community.

For more on youth issues in DC you can FOLLOW us on Twitter, LIKE us on Facebook,SUBSCRIBE to this blog and VISIT us at

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Ain't No Stopping Us Now

Photo taken at DCAYA 10 Year Anniversary Celebration by AISM Photography

Before we move forward with our 2015 advocacy agenda, let’s take a quick second to look back on our community’s accomplishments. 

2014 was a monumental year for youth advocates as we banded together to pass impactful legislation and transformative community initiatives.

As an alliance, we are making significant and positive changes for young people in our community. Check out our Top 10 Outcomes of 2014.

Top 10 Outcomes of 2014

1.) Passed LGBTQ Homeless Youth Legislation

This groundbreaking legislation is the first of its kind throughout the country that’s targeted to support homeless LGBTQ youth. Nationally, LGBTQ youth make up a disproportionately- large share of the overall homeless youth population. By increasing immediate services - such as beds - and long-term supports -like family reunification programs – DC is addressing the issue of homelessness among LGBTQ youth head-on. What makes this legislation particularly progressive, and a model for national legislation, is the cultural competency training component, that will ensure staff members interacting with LGBTQ youth are aware of and sensitive to their unique needs.

Learn more: Will You Be America’s Next Top Model?

2.) Welcomed the Creation of the Re-Engagement Center

The creation of DC’s Re-Engagement Center is a major advancement for the District’s disconnected youth population that was several years in the making. From the National League of Cities building on national best practice to conduct a Re-Engagement Center feasibility study, to DCAYA’s research and composition of a report to document the specific needs of DC’s disconnected youth. The findings behind a Re-Engagement Center were clear, DC youth need a single entry point with strong connections to trusted adults to successfully reconnect to educational opportunities. Rather than sending youth to various offices across the District to figure out their next life steps, the Re-Engagement Center is a single-door approach to help guide youth back onto a path of educational success.

Learn more: “One-Stop-Shop” to Re-Engagement

3.) Advocated to Expand the Kids Ride Free Program to SYEP Youth

How is an at-risk youth with no money able to afford their trip to work before their first pay check? For years, this has been a significant hurdle for SYEP youth seeking to gain valuable work experiences. DCAYA posed this question to then Councilmember Muriel Bowser and Councilmember Mary Cheh at the Kids Ride Free Roundtable last year. To our great appreciation, they listened. With leadership and support from DOES, the Kids Ride Free Program was expanded to SYEP youth for the three week period before youth received their first paycheck. Through this collaborative solution, youth were able to focus on doing a great job, instead of the financial stress of getting to their job.

Learn more: Jump on the Bus

4.) Passed Homeless Youth Amendment Act of 2014 with $1.3 Million in Funding

Funding towards youth- specific shelter beds and programming has declined over the years, which is why this legislation and funding mark was critically needed. With significant community support and strong council backing, the Homeless Youth Act was passed to ramp-up services which target youth between the ages of 16 -24. A significant piece of this legislation focuses on collecting and analyzing data on homeless youth to best target funding towards services that work.

View infographic: Filling the Gaps of Homeless Youth Services

5.) Published Voter Education Guide

What an election year! With so many candidates running for office across the District, how were concerned residents able to decide who was best fit for the positions? DCAYA sent out surveys to all Mayoral, Ward, and At-Large candidates asking them about their stances on pressing youth issues and received a 100% response rate. For advocates it was a win-win situation: community members became more informed about the issues, and candidates became well aware that youth advocates are very committed to holding our elected officials accountable for addressing the needs of young people.

Read more: Candidate Surveys

Watch the youth voter video: I Vote DC

6.) Simplified Afterschool Enrollment Process for Low-Income Parents

2013 was a major headache for low-income parents trying to enroll their children into free or reduced-cost afterschool programs. Through collaborating with the DC Public Schools Out-of-School Time office, DCAYA was able to suggest significant changes to the enrollment process so parents of children who need these enrichment programs most are able to access them successfully.

Learn more: Great News for Out-Of-School Time Programs & Parents

7.) Passed Child Sex Trafficking Legislation

It is a heartbreaking and truly unfortunate reality that sometimes something terrible has to happen before lawmakers will act. After DCAYA published a blog about a young person from the Homeless Children’s Playtime Project who was abducted and trafficked to California for commercial sex, policymakers and law enforcement began to listen. A comprehensive bill was drafted by trauma- informed experts to protect, rather than prosecute, victims of child sex trafficking to provide them with the services they need to successfully recover.

Learn more: Sex for Shelter

8.) Created the Youth Workforce Leadership Academy

In July, DCAYA and our partners launched the Youth Workforce Leadership Academy, a year-long learning community of youth development professionals. The Academy allows emerging leaders in the youth workforce field to discuss best practices and build strong city-wide partnerships. The monthly collaborative workshops are intended to bolster programming for young people so that DC may become a community of experts that are committed to combating poverty through a skilled youth workforce.

Learn more: DCAYA Releases Workforce Leadership Academy Application

9.) Lead Design of a Coordinated Intake System for Homeless Youth

Right now, when a young person goes to a youth shelter and there are no beds, they are often turned away and left to figure out their next steps for the night. DCAYA is working with nonprofits and government agencies to lead the creation of a coordinated intake system, so that when a shelter cannot accommodate a youth with no place to stay, that young person will be guided to a program with available space. Look out for more on this in the New Year!

Learn more: Coordinated Entry: Boot Camp and 100-Day Challenge

10.) Celebrated Ten Years of Youth Advocacy

Can you believe we’ve been doing this for 10 years? That’s right folks, as an alliance we’ve pushed for youth reforms and innovative initiatives for a decade now, getting stronger and stronger with each passing year. We can’t wait to see our advancing work impact the lives of DC’s youth in DCAYA’s next decade. It’s through the power of the 130+ youth-serving organizations behind us that DCAYA has accomplished so much for the youth of DC, and there “ain’t no stopping us now.”

If you are a youth-serving organization in DC, consider becoming part of the Alliance to grow the strength of the youth-serving community.

Become a Member

If you’re a community member, sign-up for our mailings to make sure you are always well informed of the initiatives happening in your community.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A Mother's Plea for Play

Guest blogger Kanya Shabazz is the program director for Playworks DC, one of DCAYA's newest members. 

As a mother of two African-American boys, I am deeply affected by events that have led to the #BlackLivesMatter movement. We have reached a tipping point….finally. For too many years, I have wondered how many lives it will take before we say enough; before we examine the institutions that make our children feel unsafe, not valued, and not heard. This goes beyond our criminal justice system.

I have worked with school districts in California, New York and now Washington, DC. In every city, I have witnessed acts of micro aggression against troubled youth within school systems. In the District, underperforming schools facing increased pressures to improve academic performance are also issuing an increased number of disciplinary referrals. In elementary schools, students are spending longer hours in academic blocks with fewer opportunities for unstructured time. When students have an opportunity for unstructured time, typically recess, students with behavioral challenges create an environment that is unsafe and exclusionary. In our toughest schools, principals may opt to forfeit recess time all together, meanwhile studies show that play is an essential part of a child’s development.

Schools partner with Playworks to transform recess and play into positive experiences that help kids and teachers get the most out of every learning opportunity. A qualified youth development professional facilitates safe, meaningful play where every kid has fun and contributes to creating an inclusive environment.

Take seven year old *Chris* for example.

When Chris came to the West Education Campus as a brand new second grader, he began acclimating himself to his new surrounding by arguing and fighting with his classmates. Chris’ teacher would often take away recess minutes as a consequence for his behavioral challenges in the classroom. Coach Bridge, a Playworks Program Coordinator, who has facilitated structured recess at West Education for two years, took this disciplinary measure as an opportunity. When Chris was restricted from play at recess, Coach Bridge would have Chris think about rules to make games more fun and fair. After recess, Coach Bridge would meet with Chris and discuss his day while also setting goals for better behavior in the classroom and during recess. Last week Chris approached Coach Bridge:
“You know Coach Bridge, I’m not getting into as many fights as usual.”
“Chris, you’re so right? What changed?”
“Recess is way more fun when I don’t fight as much.”
This is the self reflection Playworks Coaches work to cultivate in students every day.
In every Playworks school, there is a percentage of marginalized youth who have a significant history of aggressive behavior. When antisocial, aggressive behavior can become a death sentence for our youth, interventions that focus on developing pro-social skills (independent conflict resolution, positive language, and behavior and inclusion) are more important than ever. Playworks Coaches reach every child, especially those who struggle most with behavioral issues. Our evidence-based curriculum partner’s youth with young adult advocates who believe that play can bring the best out of every child.

Photo courtesy of Playworks DC

Kanya Shabazz's favorite recess games are double dutch and four square. Learn more about Playworks and how you can be involved here:

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