Thursday, November 20, 2014

Oh SNAP! What can you really buy for $4.15?

Photo found on the USDA webpage "Supplementary Food Assistance Program"

On the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) webpage there is a colorful picture of a mom holding a baby and picking up a red apple with bright green veggies in the background. Under the picture there is a description, “SNAP offers nutrition assistance to millions of eligible, low-income individuals and families and provides economic benefits to communities.” SNAP, formerly known as the federal Food Stamp Program, is supposed to act as a safety net for financially struggling families who cannot afford food.

Our friends at the Homeless Children’s Playtime Project took on the “SNAP Challenge" a week long educational exercise where participants can only spend $4.15* a day on food, simulating a SNAP food budget.

The Playtime Project staff shared with us their reflections during their in-office "SNAP Challenge":

Grocery item #1: Oodles of Noodles, $0.67

I am doing the Food Stamp challenge for lunch this week and was not prepared for how impractical it is to eat lunch for $2.50. I went to the grocery store and looked at a cucumber for some veggies...more than $2.00. I went to the canned bean aisle. Again, most of the beans were more than $2.00! I got the beans thinking I would divide it up for a couple meals with rice. The next morning as I was dashing out the door, I realized I needed to season my bland lunch so I sauteed a slice of onion and bell pepper. If I really wanted to save money, I would have to buy dry beans and bulk to soak them. I don't feel like I have the time and patience to do that now, so how practical is it for single parents in homeless shelters to soak beans and saute vegetables on their way out the door?

As I looked around the store feeling more and more deflated about my options, I could "get" in a more visceral way, how much sense it makes to buy "Oodles of Noodles," chips and soda to keep bellies full. It takes energy and time and creative thinking to cook healthy food on a budget and I could feel myself giving up and giving in to what is more practical for a busy live. It is easy to take for granted how many choices money can buy.
- Jamila Larson, Executive Director and Co-founder

Grocery Item #2: Elbow Macaroni, $2.88

As I think over the past couple of days during the Food Stamp Challenge, I have a greater appreciation for the quality and abundance of food I have been privileged to have over the years. Shopping on $22.50 for the week was difficult. While I usually purchase numerous fresh fruit and vegetables, I realized that on a food stamp budget that just wouldn't be possible. Instead I purchased items that I felt would keep me full for the week. That meant a lot of carbs (with rice and pasta), and canned chili/beans. The items I bought did not provide a lot of diversity for meals, I was going to have rice or noodles for the next week.
- Joel Schwarz, Development Manager 

Grocery Item #3: Dried Bag of Black Beans, $1.72

As a employee for a direct service and advocacy organization working with families experiencing homelessness, I consider myself to be relatively well informed about the diverse and broad issues affecting the homeless population. That being said, participating in the SNAP challenge has given me a greater appreciation for the daily challenges that living in poverty brings. The foods which were most affordable and within my budget for the week were those that required a lot of preparation - a bag of dried beans, rice, pasta, and soup. I am fortunate to live in a house with an appropriate kitchen and 9-5 job that afforded me the time and resources to make those decisions. I'm also a single, young professional without children, whose needs I would also need to meet. It is hard to imagine a family that might have the time and energy to make the same food choices that I had made. Week after week, month after month, it is easy to understand that individuals and families would prioritize getting children to and from school, after school programs, searching for an apartment or job, and other necessary tasks over elaborate meal preparations.

It is no surprise that children who experience homelessness go hungry at 2 times the rate of their housed peers. Obesity and nutritional deficiencies are common among the children we serve, but I find that it is the limited choice in food and nutrition over lack of will that contributes to the problem.
- Kelli Beyer, Communications and Outreach Manager

*SNAP benefits are affected by a person’s income, number of family members, additional assistance benefits, and a variety of other factors that require complex calculation. $4.15 represents the average daily benefit.

This piece is part of our month long blog series for "Homeless Youth Awareness Month." Continue reading to learn more about the challenges homeless youth face in the District. A special thank you to Homeless Children's Playtime Project for sharing their experiences with us during Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week.  Read the Playtime Project's blog to learn more about their ongoing work to bring healthy play experiences to children experiencing homelessness. 

Friday, November 14, 2014

Sex for Shelter

Photo Courtesy of Fair Girls 
The following blog is part of the DCAYA Youth Homelessness Awareness Month blog series

People often place homelessness and sex trafficking into two different buckets of vulnerability. In reality, these issues are often one in the same, as homeless children are sexually exploited at an alarmingly high rate. When they do not have a safe place to sleep or trusting adults to turn to, young people are forced to find a way to survive. Many times, the only currency they have to offer are their own bodies. Sometimes adults force or coerce a young person into the sex trade – sometimes their situations do – either way, this form of sexual exploitation is mentally and physically damaging to a minor’s well-being. To add insult to injury, in DC, these minors are arrested and prosecuted for engaging in unlawful sexual behavior; going from one system of control established by a pimp, to another system of control brought on by a police officer.

On November 18, DC Council will vote on a bill to change this practice. The 'Safe Harbor' bill will ensure minors get care, not punishment, when trying to survive on the streets. Below is an excerpt from our one-pager with a FAQs section that addresses common misperceptions about minors and the sex trade.

It is fitting that this bill is being voted on during Youth Homelessness Awareness Month. It is time we stop arresting and prosecuting vulnerable children who need basic necessitates: food, shelter, and a caring adult.

“When I was a kid being sex trafficked, I was threatened with arrest, not refered to services. DC law has to change. Kids shouldn’t be arrested for being sex trafficked or survival sex.”

- Kiana
 College Student, Survivor Advocate at FAIR Girls DC 

“Our Safe Harbor law has been a tremendous tool as we combat this horrific crime. With the help of service providers, we focus on the rescue and recovery of young victims caught up in the sex trade.”
 - Anita Alvarez
   State’s Attorney, Cook County, IL

“As a Law Enforcement Officer, it is our sworn duty to    protect the public, and that includes our children who are the most vulnerable.  Safe Harbor laws acknowledge that children, who are not adults, do not have the maturity to give consent to be trafficked.  Safe Harbor laws help us put the real perpetrators in jail.”
- Retired Officer Dan Goldsmith, California State Investigator


Q: What is child sex trafficking and survival sex?

A: The federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) defines a sex trafficking victim as any child under 18 who is engaging in commercial sex acts.  Survival sex occurs when a child engages in sexual acts in exchange for food, shelter, or other basic needs, whether or not they have a pimp. Under the TVPA, minors engaging in survival sex should be treated as trafficking victims.

Q: Isn’t arrest & prosecution a good way for victims to get services?

A: No, instead victims need to be able to voluntarily access services through police referrals — police training on how to do this is included in the bill. A jail cell or a courtroom are not the most effective ways to present services to victims of child sex trafficking. Victims need to have the time and space to commit to accepting services in order for the services to be effective.  As Andrea Powell, Executive Director of Fair Girls says, “we’ve never had any victim tell us no to services … if they are asked correctly.”

Q: But don’t we need to arrest these kids and threaten them with prosecution so they give information about their pimps?

A: No, arresting victims of child sex trafficking will only lead them to distrust, be hostile toward, and withhold information from authorities. When a victim has the opportunity to voluntarily choose services, the young person is more cooperative in a police investigation.


Photo Courtesy of Fair Girls 

Before the vote on Tuesday, November 19th 2014, reach out to DC Councilmembers through their social media channels. View sample tweets and councilmember twitter handles for guidance as we work together to pass this significant and groundbreaking legislation to protect victims of child sex trafficking. 

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, November 05, 2014

Homeless Youth Awareness Month Blog Series

What comes to mind when you think of November?

Sweater season, warm apple cider, the crackling of a bonfire in a backyard, the smell of Thanksgiving dinner wafting through a home with the sound of family in the background …

For me, many warm memories come to mind when I think about the season.

However, November is also National Homeless Youth Awareness Month, a potent reminder of the stark realities our DC youth face.

This time last year, DCAYA released a Bold Strategy to End Youth Homelessness. The Bold Strategy was created in collaboration with Covenant House DC, Latin American Youth Center, Sasha Bruce Youthwork, StandUp for Kids DC, Wanda Alston Foundation, and the Washington Interfaith Network. The strategy offered a holistic solution to solving the varied problems which lead youth to becoming trapped in the cycle of homelessness.

Thanks to the ongoing dedication of DCAYA’s community of advocates, the Bold Strategy was adopted by the DC Council, written into legislation, and passed as the Homeless Youth Amendment Act. Unfortunately, the legislation did not receive adequate funding to meet all of the intended initiatives.

Where does this leave DC’s homeless young people?

For Homeless Youth Awareness Month, DCAYA is launching a blog series to address the impact of the DC government underfunding critical resources for homeless youth. Follow the month-long series to understand how a family reunification program, additional street outreach, and other youth-focused services would help stabilize a young person’s life.

While the funding was cut short, what advocates are able to do with the resulting funds is astounding.
  • There are 15 new emergency beds to be available specifically for homeless youth. 
  • Advocates and providers will conduct annual Point-In-Time Studies to gather updated data on youth experiencing homelessness.

So enjoy November. Enjoy your Thanksgiving dinner and warm apple cider, but remember your 4,000+ young neighbors who are struggling to find a safe place to sleep or a warm dinner to fill their bellies. Together, as a community, we need DC to fully fund life-saving resources for homeless youth.


Maggie Riden
Executive Director of DCAYA

Click to donate to DCAYA’s advocacy efforts to end youth homelessness.

Click to sign-up to DCAYA’s newsletter and receive updates on youth homelessness advocacy efforts.

As Hypothermia Season is upon us, we want to remind everyone that if you see anyone outside when it’s 32 degrees or below don’t keep walking, take action and call the Hypothermia Hotline 1 (800) 535-7252. You may end up saving a life.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Invest in Our Shining Lights

When it comes to the quality of expanded learning programs, DC ranked second in the country according to the Afterschool Alliance in their latest report “America After 3PM.” As a coalition of youth development organizations, DCAYA knows this ranking is well deserved. Our expanded learning partners are passionate about their programs, focus heavily on quality curriculum development, and hire astounding program staff to reach the various needs of young people. It is truly the dedicated work of these hard working individuals that accounts for this high ranking score.

While the full report and data sets paint a picture of the expanded learning landscape in DC, the smiles of young people tell us a story.

Click the picture to view the Photo Slideshow: Slidely Slideshow

Even though DC is ranked number two in the country for having quality afterschool programs, there are still many low-income children not accessing these vital enrichment opportunities. In fact, even when you look at the numbers there are 31,633 at-risk students attending DC public schools, but only 6,935 available expanded learning slots [INFOGRAPHIC]. It is easy to see the severe deficit in programming for young people who need the supports most.

Access to quality programming for students in at-risk communities is a high priority on DCAYA’s advocacy agenda.

We need to #KeepTheLights on afterschool so ALL DC children have access to the amazing expanded learning programs our community has to offer.

Share the blog and photo slideshow with friends & colleagues to advocate for keeping the #LightsOnAfterschool.

Sign-up to our Expanded Learning list serve to receive updates on our advocacy campaigns and policy proposals throughout the year.

City Kids Wilderness

Thank you to all of our members who lent their smiles and cute kids to our advocacy photo slideshow. Together we can "Keep the #LightsOnAfterschool."

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

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Turning $15,000 Into $50 Million for At-Risk Youth

Photo by AISM Photography

Letter from the DC Alliance of Youth Advocates executive director, Maggie Riden. 

DCAYA is a community.

A community of nonprofits, funders, advocates, youth, parents and policymakers gathered around a joint vision for DC youth. Our shared commitment to this vision brought us together on the beautiful evening of September 26th for the 10th Anniversary of DC Alliance of Youth Advocates.

The night honored the ground-breaking work of our organization’s founders and set the tone for another ten years of life-changing youth advocacy.

Through the generous support of our community of youth advocates, the Anniversary raised over $15,000.

As an advocacy nonprofit, we are able to turn $15,000 of donations into over $50,000,000 of public investment in youth initiatives. Talk about return on investment.

How do we do this? Through our coalition-building, advocacy campaigns, and policy expertise, last year alone we influenced:
  • The increase of public investments in afterschool and enrichment summer programs for at-risk youth. 

As committed advocates, we are able to take personal donations and transform them into community-wide social change.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you to all of our members, partners, and benefactors. We can only achieve these successes with your support.

By this time next year, with your help, we plan to double our fundraising goal so we can double of our efforts to ensure all young people have:
My three committed and passionate staff members and I look forward to continuing to work on behalf of DC youth in the years to come. It is through your contributions and continued support that we are able to make this important work within our community possible.

Thank you,

Maggie Riden

To view more pictures from the 10 Year Anniversary visit our Facebook Page.

Photo by AISM Photography
Photo by AISM Photography
Photo by AISM Photography

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

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

How Will You Vote?

Photo via WAMU
It’s election time in DC again, and we’re back with candidate questionnaires so you can know where potential District leaders stand on youth issues.  

The general election is November 4.  We sent questionnaires to all candidates running for Mayor or Council.  We are happy to announce that all major candidates did submit completed questionnaires.

The questionnaire is made up of 5 simple questions, and the candidates were mandated to keep each answer at 150 words or less.  The questionnaire covers expanded learning, youth homelessness, youth workforce development, and disconnected youth.  The questionnaire also has one general question about what the candidate would do in their first 100 days in office to address youth issues.

Without further ado, here are their answers:

We hope that these questionnaires serve as a voter education tool for our youth, our members, and our wider community.  We invite everyone to share them widely so that youth issues are elevated in the dialogue surrounding the election.

Please note that DCAYA does not endorse any candidates, in compliance with our 501(c)3 status.  These questionnaires are simply an education tool and should only be used as such.

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, October 03, 2014

Coordinated Entry: Boot Camp and 100-Day Challenge

This week homeless youth advocates went to boot camp.  There wasn’t a lot of yelling and push-ups, but there was sweat-inducing policy planning and some ice breakers that got a little intense.  

On Monday and Tuesday, along with the Interagency Council on Homelessness and Community Solutions, DCAYA co-hosted a DC policy boot camp on coordinated intake and referrals for homeless youth.  Participants came from Office of State Superintendent of Education, DC Public Schools, Department of Behavioral Health, Department of Human Services, Children and Family Services Agency, Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services, The Community Partnership, Latin American Youth Center, Sasha Bruce Youthbuild, Wanda Alston House, and Covenant House.  Together, they mapped out a working plan to build a District-wide, coordinated entry system for unaccompanied homeless youth. 

Coordinated entry is a system where a homeless youth can show up at any “front door” government agency or community-based organization, be assessed by a standardized assessment tool, and then be referred in a standardized way to best-fit programs.  It sounds simple, but it is actually really difficult to get all the pieces in place to make this process work.  

Think about it, dozens of government agencies and community-based organizations, each with their own requirements and missions, have to come together to select and hone a standardized assessment tool.  They have to change their current referral protocols and habits to a semi-standardized referral protocol based off the chosen assessment tool.  They have to create and maintain a living database that shows available housing slots and service slots. Then they have to figure out what happens when a youth is assessed and referred, but there are not enough services for them.  And those are just a few of the challenges.

That’s why the boot camp model doesn’t end after the two-day planning period.  Now starts the 100-day challenge to implement the work plan.  DCAYA and its fellow participants have only 100 days to make coordinated entry happen. This is a very rapid timeline, meant to keep the momentum going to bust through the obstacles that have kept coordinated entry from happening in the past.

This 100-challenge is nationally historic.  While this model has been very successful in implementing coordinated entry for adults, this is the very first time it will be attempted for unaccompanied homeless youth.  The unaccompanied homeless youth system presents more challenges than the adult side: stricter privacy laws, mandatory reporting laws, working with the 18-24 age group that is often mis-resourced, etc.  But we know DC is ready for this challenge.  

DCAYA has been chosen as the lead organization for this challenge.  We are slightly daunted by the massive amount of work that we are facing over the next 100 days, but we know it is worth it.  It will be incredibly rewarding to collaborate with hard-working, creative, compassionate people from government agencies and community-based organizations. Our youth deserve a coordinated entry system when they come to us for help, and we are going to make it happen.

Katie Dunn is the youth homelessness and expanded learning policy analyst for DCAYA.  She is listening to Rocky pump-up music to get through this 100-day challenge.