Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A Blogpost from Justin

This week's blogpost is from Justin, a local 24 year who identifies as "homeless". Please take some time to read his story as we reflect on the issue of youth homelessness during the month of November (and year round!).

The night was beyond cold. It must have been in the low twenties. I didn’t have a watch, but I think it was around two o’clock. I couldn’t go back to sleep. I had about four blankets and I was still shivering. I woke up and waited by the edge of the park for the sun to rise. From were I was I could usually see the large clock on the church across the street. It felt like a lifetime, but I was able to make it. The sunrise still gives me hope to this day.

The sun warmed me just enough to walk down to So Others Might Eat (SOME). I went there to eat breakfast. It’s good to know there are places to go for food, plus there, I could stay out of the cold for a while. It was Monday, so I had to wait till noon for the library to open. The blankets kept me somewhat warm, despite the wind. Once the library opened I knew I would be fine for at least eight hours.

The library seemed to be the only place I could fine solace. I would just read books on everything, even the encyclopedia. Religion and politics were my favorites, but I loved to read books on science and psychology as well. The reading was a diversion from the cold, the lack of food and sleep, and even the people who would bother me at night. I loved reading about activists the most. It impressed me how they were able to make so many positive changes, even when it seemed like the whole world was against them. It let me know that I could get out of my situation in due time.

Once night hit and the library closed I went back outside. I headed towards the food van from Martha’s Table. They would give out food (like) sandwiches and warm soup. Walking back to the park wasn’t fun at all. The cold wind made sleeping almost impossible. I couldn’t stand the people constantly bothering me; men and women of all ages always asking me if I wanted to make some money, or if I was looking for a friend. They acted like they cared, but all they wanted was to exploit me. At least I would see less of them during the colder months. After it finally got quiet I went back to sleep, and my whole day would start once again.

This was my life for quite some time. I had already been in an out of homelessness for a couple of years. I spent a lot of time figuring out what I wanted to do, till I decided I wanted to help people. It was arduous though. Not too many places want to hire a homeless person or even offer an internship. So I spent my time helping with different political actions and other project when I could. I still wished I could help in the community and still make a living, however. I still had hope that I could work things out.

Things got better when I finally decided to do something I rarely even do to this day, trust others. Over time I would hear about different opportunities from people I had met. Eventually I was able to get an opportunity with an organization called the DC Alliance of Youth Advocates (DCAYA). They were conducting the first ever survey of homeless youth in the District. It sounded like a great way to help in the community and get my foot in the door in the non-profit world. Helping with the survey helped me a great deal with myself. It gave me hope that others were really trying to make a difference in Washington DC. All volunteers and workers treated me like a person, not a homeless ethnically ambiguous youth. Also I was able to learn and see just how bad it is for homeless youth in Washington DC. It hurts to know that so many other youth are facing the challenges of being homeless. But at least I have hope that with help from others, they can get out of their situations.

Big thanks to Justin for sharing his story and for his involvement with the 2011 Homeless and Unstably Housed Youth Study!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

New Blog Series!

November is YOUTH HOMELESSNESS AWARENESS MONTH! In honor of this occurrence, DCAYA is lucky enough to have a string of guest bloggers from our membership to report on the many different facets of youth homelessness that exist in the District.

This week Covenant House's own Dan Brannen shares his opinion on the importance of investing in young people's transition into adulthood. Special thanks to Dan for guest blogging!

Transition to Adulthood

Transition: the passage of one form, state, style or place to another.

No other time in life is as tumultuous or life-defining as our transition into adulthood. The facts are clear. Neurologists now know that the brain is in its final transformation from age 18-25. Psychologists and sociologists know that our ability to relate to each other and the world around us is put to the test during this epic stage of our life. Finally, in today’s economic climate, it does not take an economist to posit that it is not until we have delved into the ‘world of work’ for several years and enhanced our intellectual acumen (through some form of advanced, post-secondary education and training) that we will really be competitive in today’s marketplace. Furthermore, most Americans aren’t living “independently” (clearly not financially) until around the age of 25. Healthy, well-educated young people coming from nurturing families often don’t live on their own until their mid-20s and yet we expect young people who have encountered incredible barriers, often from their earliest stages of development to go it alone the day they hit 18. In the midst of Homeless Youth Awareness month (November), I would like to call attention to the need to better invest in young people throughout their transition into adulthood, which extends long after age 18.

Those of us who have spent our adult lives serving young people, know that it is, indeed, a marathon of service that we have embarked upon. Young people from all walks of life need support throughout their transition into adulthood, but children and youth who have spent their early formative years without necessary services and supports are especially needing of investment when it comes to their transition to life as an adult.

So, where does that leave us? It leaves us at a fork in the road. Do we as a society, of individuals, communities, institutions and political parties, invest in our young people in a continuous, comprehensive manner despite hitting the magical age of 18 ?Or, do we turn the blind eye and pretend that these young people are somehow become prepared for the rigors of adult life absent the necessary supports and services?

I began this discourse with a definition of transition. Why? For us folks in the youth/young adult world, transition doesn’t mean short-term, or not permanent (such as a term like transitional housing might suggest). Instead, transition means a time that requires extra support. So, my answer is this – if we take the time, use our patience and extend our resources (including financial ones) in a compassionate way toward teens who are transitioning into adulthood, especially those who struggle the most or who find themselves homeless, then we can truly change the dysfunctional trajectory of a young life and prevent what might otherwise be a lifetime of tragedy as an adult.

So on the eve of the release of the “Homeless Youth Report”, I answer a resounding “Yes!”, we need to invest in our young people until age 25…at least until then J.

Dan Brannen

Executive Director

Covenant House Washington

Stay Tuned for more exciting guest blogs from DCAYA's member orgs throughout the month of November!

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Strength in Numbers

This week's blog post is a letter to our members and allies from DCAYA's Interim Executive Director Katherine Morrison, inviting them to DCAYA's General Membership Meeting on November 09, 2011:

Every nonprofit Executive Director could work 24 hours a day and still not feel caught up, which makes any time spent on an activity not directly related to organizational survival seem irrelevant.

I’d like to make the case that attending DCAYA’s general membership meeting the morning of November 9 does not fall into that category. As we approach the 2012 advocacy season we once again face a situation of increasing demand for the services that support young people here in the District. However, the tough budget climate we witnessed last year has not improved and the 2012 advocacy season will be another hard-fought battle that will require an all hands on deck approach from youth advocates, community members and youth themselves.

In that spirit, please join us on November 9th to discuss our advocacy agenda for the coming season in our core issue areas of out-of-school time, youth workforce development and youth homelessness. Your input is essential to ensurethe strength of the DCAYA coalition.

At the general membership meeting we will also seek your thoughts on the future of the DCAYA – both the short-term the characteristics needed in a new Executive Director, and our longer-term strategic plan.

An investment of two hours of your time on Wednesday, November 9 (10:00am – 12:00pm at the Martin Luther King Library, 901 G Street Room A-10) means a stronger voice for DC youth and youth-serving organizations in 2012 and years to come.

I look forward to meeting representatives of all the DCAYA member organizations. If you can’t attend on November 9 please share your thoughts on our draft advocacy agendas (to be sent later this week) with one of our staff or with me at

I’m proud to have been asked to serve at the DCAYA’s Interim Executive Director and want to work with you to ensure that all DC youth have the opportunity to lead healthy and productive lives.

See you on November 9!


Katherine Morrison is the Interim Executive Director of the DC Alliance of Youth Advocates. More information on Katherine and her work with DCAYA is available at

To RSVP to the November 09th meeting you may do so by clicking here or by emailing