Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Message from Senior Policy Analyst Maggie Riden

Last week we released the findings of our youth homelessness study, From the streets to stability: A study of youth homelessness in the District of Columbia. This study is a ground breaking effort for the District in achieving a depth of understanding on the factors that lead our youth to homelessness, keep them from achieving stability and opportunities our community can leverage to propel them into successful and independent adulthood.

Over the next year you can expect to see a number of white papers and policy briefs that examine the findings laid out in our report through a prescriptive policy lens. These will be disseminated through our website and this blog; but before we get there, we wanted to take a minute and really discuss the importance of starting policy efforts in this arena with a solid basis in relevant data.

Before this research effort, little to no concrete information was available related to the issue of youth homelessness- in terms of the size of the population, or the unique needs and characteristics of homeless youth. Understanding the size and characteristics of the homeless youth population is critical for the planning and development of programs to prevent and end youth homelessness, as well as for evaluating the effectiveness of these interventions.

We wanted to know about personal and family history, educational status, employment rates and/or barriers to employment, health issues and perhaps most importantly- youth input on the services they need to become successful self sufficient community members. This type of information was critical because homeless youth are very different from their adult counterparts. They have, as the data reinforces, been subject to numerous systems failures that have resulted in educational gaps that hinder their successful entry into the workforce. They lack many of the interpersonal and independent living skills necessary to negotiate living on their own. Realizing this, we worked with numerous partners and experts to develop a survey that we hoped could gather information that would help guide policy decisions across all the agencies and systems that can play a role in both prevention and stabilization.

The information we gathered on all these elements is rich and complex. It speaks to the many ways in which we as a community- meaning families, neighbors, schools, community organizations and government agencies- can collaborate more effectively and approach youth homelessness through a preventive mindset. It highlights the ways in which homeless services must be tailored to youth- in terms of length of stay and scope of services needed at the various stages of development. Finally it reinforces the numerous and varied partnerships needed (at both the provider and policy development levels) to realize lasting self sufficiency for a homeless young person.

Finally, we hope the findings of this study, and the insights youth revealed while participating challenge our assumptions about homeless youth. Please forgive the cliché because in this instance it’s very true- these young people are not expecting a hand out, just a hand up. Time and again our information shows that these youth have a vision for their future and are highly aware of the work they must do to achieve it. They are ripe with possibility, but in need of guidance and support to realize their full potential.

In the coming months DCAYA will continue to bring you additional reflections on the findings and opportunities to participate in ongoing discussions with community partners, policy makers and other stakeholders to translate the findings of this study into actionable policy recommendations. In the meantime, take a moment to check out the findings and don’t hesitate to reach out with questions, thoughts or feedback.

Maggie Riden can be reached by email ( or by phone at the DCAYA offices at 202.587.0616

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