Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Leaving Our Youth Out in the Cold

Every year the Interagency Council on Homelessness (ICH) creates a “Winter Plan” to meet DC’s legal obligation to shelter all residents during nights of hypothermia risk (when the temperature drops below 32 degrees Fahrenheit). This year we advocated alongside many members for a clearer strategy to address the needs of unaccompanied children in this plan.

Progress: Coordination and 6 new beds

There has been progress made in this effort. Multiple systems, specifically the ICH, DHS and CFSA, have dedicated the organizational resources to engage in this complex dialogue fraught with federal requirements and local mandates.

Also, DHS has committed to developing 6 additional emergency beds for children that will be up and running for the rapidly approaching winter months. This brings the total number of emergency beds for unaccompanied children to 12.

Remaining Issue: A Clearly Articulated Strategy

The progress has hit a sticking point though. Unlike the family and adult singles system, there has yet to be a clearly articulated strategy to ensure an adequate system of response and safe housing in non-standard (but likely) circumstances.

The three foreseeable non-standard circumstances that we are most concerned about are:
  • If the existing community based slots reach capacity 
  • If evidence of abuse and neglect remains undetermined, thus limiting the likelihood of timely intervention by CFSA 
  • If a child simply refuses to return home
On the third point it’s important to understand that youth are kicked out or run from home for many reasons; and just because there isn’t immediate evidence of abuse or neglect, does not mean ‘home’ is a safe place to be. In addition, youth do not go to a shelter as a first or even second resort. Youth arrive at emergency shelters because they have exhausted all other resources and being home is no longer an option. 

Given the goal of the Winter Plan, we need a simple and clear response strategy that frontline shelter staff or other first responders can easily and quickly navigate. They need to know who to call should the youth system reach capacity. Last year, one member organization had to turn away 150 youth from February to May. This is simply not okay. With a clear protocol in place, the responding agency or partner will be able to quickly route a young person to a system equipped with the knowledge and skills to pinpoint a young persons needs and determine next steps. An adult shelter is not the place to do this.

Options: Emergency-Funds for Community Providers or a Lead Agency

Two options are tenable. First, the District could establish an emergency reserve fund that would allow community based providers the financial flexibility to respond rapidly to provide shelter while logistical details are clarified. This response model mirrors the District’s use of motels or emergency overflow locations in the family or individual adult system.

Secondly, we could identify a lead agency with the resources and expertise to triage the situation, quickly respond, and ensure the child is safe until a longer-term intervention is identified and executed.

Bottom Line: Make a responsible plan

Regardless of which organization or agency is designated to lead in non-standard circumstances, the Winter Plan must clearly articulate a strategy to adequately meet unaccompanied children’s needs. The ICH, DHS, CFSA, DYRS, and the Runaway and Homeless Youth Providers must ensure that a child is never left out on a dangerously cold night simply because we were unable to plan for the inevitable. Winter is coming, and we need to prepare to ensure the safety of our District’s children and youth.

Maggie Riden, Executive Director of DC Alliance of Youth Advocates, testified at the Winter Plan Oversight Roundtable urging city council to clearly define and implement a plan for unaccompanied children. As a member of the ICH board, Maggie advocates for resources on behalf of unstably housed youth in the District.  

More on the story:

Winter’s Coming. Is the City Ready to Shelter Its Homeless?

Winter Plan Roundtable: Rough Season Ahead for Families and Youth

Advocates Testify on Behalf of Homeless Youth

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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

YOUTH VOICES: Charmia Carolina

DCAYA, in partnership with Raise DC and with the support of The Community Foundation for The National Capital Region and the United Way of the National Capital Area released the report “Connecting Youth to Opportunity: Better Understanding the Needs of Disconnected Young People in Washington, DC.” The following "Youth Voices" blog and video series highlights the findings of the report.

It was a chilly November evening. My oldest daughter Jada walked quietly next to me as we made our way to the shelter. It was getting late, and I knew beds would start filling up quickly. Jada’s sister Jasmine was with my mom trying to find their own place to stay that night. As I looked down at Jada’s little hand in mine I thought about how big she’s gotten. She was five years old now, the last time we were in this situation, she was barely one.

Jada was growing in my belly during my eighth grade graduation. In the hallways, I could hear kids and teachers say comments like, “You know what she was doing on the weekends that’s why she was never around,” and they would compare me to the new MTV show Sixteen and Pregnant, pointing out that I was barely 14. I made it through eighth grade, but high school was just a summer away, and the same kids would be transferring to my new school.

The first time I was put out, was shortly after having Jada. I wanted to be with her father and my mom refused. I was 15 and he was much older. To me, the age difference didn’t seem like an issue, but my mom wouldn’t have it. One night we fought so badly that she said I couldn’t stay with her anymore, I had to find my own place to go. As it turned out, I couldn’t stay with him either.

For three nights I was homeless and it was terrible. I slept on playgrounds, on the metro, at bus stops, anywhere. I finally was taken to the Child and Family Services Agency and placed in a group home then a family, then another family. In the end, I lived in 12 homes within a year and a half. The process of a foster child is just crazy, you meet a person, and then five minutes later, you’re left alone with the person to live with and you don’t even know how it’s going to work out. Jada was with me, experiencing each situation as we bounced around DC and Maryland. We were placed back with my mom after CFSA found out I was pregnant again. I had my second child in February and by June my mom and I were evicted. Four years later, it became the same process all over again.

Jada and I walked up to the shelter, a line had already formed. By the time we got to the check-in desk, there were no more beds left and they were turning everyone away. As the sun was going down, it was getting noticeably colder. Frustrated and beginning to worry, I asked the workers at the check-in desk where we should go. They told me to head to the monuments. At least there would be light and some protection from the night. Jada and I left to find money for the metro.

Charmia Carolina is currently a trainee in the Sasha Bruce program YouthBuild and graduates on November 6th, 2013. Through YouthBuild, Charmia was hired for her first job with the non-profit Promising Futures. She mentors young girls in the Anacostia high school about the importance of making healthy life choices.

Read the report "Connecting Youth to Opportunity: Better Understanding the Needs of Disconnected Young People in Washington, DC"

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

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Connecting Youth to Opportunity

On October 22nd, DCAYA, in partnership with Raise DC and with the support of The Community Foundation for The National Capital Region and the United Way of the National Capital Area is releasing the report “Connecting Youth to Opportunity: Better Understanding Disconnected Young People in Washington, DC.” The following "Youth Voices" blog and video series highlights the findings of the report.

Educational attainment and formative employment experiences are crucial to lifelong stability and success. Yet, thousands of youth are struggling each and every day to complete their education and enter the labor market, too often spiraling into complete disconnection from both opportunities.

The ramifications of youth disconnection on the health and well-being of any community are profound. We know that disconnected youth face a future that is filled with risk and missed opportunity. The responsibility to address this issue and successfully reconnect all young people is a shared one.

However, we will never succeed if we operate in a vacuum and fail to acknowledge that the factors leading into disconnection and the strategies to facilitate reconnection are as varied and nuanced as the youth themselves. This makes youth input and participation in the development of solutions critical. Yet, nationally and locally, there has been a noticeable lack of attention paid to the voices of the young people we are aiming to support.

To amend this, DCAYA, in partnership with Raise DC, and with the support of The Community Foundation for The National Capital Region and the United Way of the National Capital Area, executed an extensive survey and qualitative study of currently disconnected and recently reconnected young people here in the District. Using a combination of tactics, we gained valuable insight into how youth experience and overcome barriers to school and work.

In soliciting young peoples' opinions we made a number of useful, although sometimes discouraging, discoveries. We discovered that often times, seemingly small issues like not having money for the bus are powerful barriers to young peoples' success. We confirmed what youth service professionals have known for years, that there are hundreds of potential factors that impact a young person's transition into adulthood. Lastly, we verified that despite not always having a comprehensive understanding of the complex systems that affect them and their peers, young people crave opportunities to better their futures and want to succeed. They just need help navigating the complex path to adulthood.

DCAYA and its partners will release the findings from this study on October 22nd. We invite you to investigate what young people had to say about their disconnection from school and work. We urge you to get involved in solving this citywide issue. The responsibility to facilitate reconnection is a shared one and the opportunity to change the future for thousands of young people is now.

We look forward to sharing the full findings with you on October 22nd and hope you join us in the movement to connect all youth to opportunity.

Anne Abbott is the policy analyst and author of the report “Connecting Youth to Opportunity: Better Understanding Disconnected Young People in Washington, DC.” To read the report on October 22nd, visit the DCAYA website at and make sure to subscribe to the blog to receive updates on postings and videos related to the report.

Please feel free to share and tweet the blog series and videos with the hashtag #YouthVoices

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

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Share Your Shutdown Story

As we embark on the second week of stalemate in federal budget negotiations, organizations that serve the most at-risk children, youth and families are being forced to make difficult decisions. With the District's budget frozen until the shutdown is resolved, critical funding from both federal and local sources have been shut off for community-based organizations. Many have been forced to reduce their programming and services, furlough non-critical staff, or shut their doors entirely. All of this is bad news for the city’s young people.

Take for instance the afterschool provider People Animals Love (PAL) who has served hundreds of youth in the past few years and receives the bulk of its funding from two government sources, the Children and Youth Investment Trust Corp (CYITC) and the Office of the State Superintendent for Schools (OSSE). Reimbursements for OSSE-administered programming offered by CYITC and the 21st Century Community Learning Centers are currently on hold. According to PAL’s Executive Director Rene Wallis, “PAL and many other youth-serving organizations are going to have to cope as the federal funds remain frozen. We may lay off workers, reduce our activities, serve fewer kids, and delay our reading interventions – all as the school year is getting seriously underway. Then, once the feds get it together, we have to ramp up again, but the lost time cannot be recovered”.

Another heartbreaking example of the effects of the shutdown is the Latin American Youth Center (LAYC). In an email to constituents yesterday afternoon, Executive Director Lori Kaplan explained that “to ensure the long term health of our programs, on Wednesday, October 9th, the LAYC will reduce services to ESSENTIAL operations only.” Incredibly, many LAYC staff members, despite being furloughed, will serve as volunteers until Congress refunds the government to ensure the stability of service provision for hundreds of young people.

Countless other stories of direct service organizations/entities being affected by the shutdown have come to light in recent days, but this does not necessarily mean that everyone understands the full outcomes of the shutdown. Surely the government workers who were most immediately affected by the closing of their offices in the District deserve public empathy, however, the ripple effects like the non-payment of contract/grant dollars to organizations serving at-risk populations is an issue somewhat less salient. The young people enrolled in most of the types of programming the city offers are in dire need of programming and services. The interruption of these has the potential to set youth back for much longer than the duration of the shutdown. With that in mind, it becomes the responsibility of the non-profit community writ large to make this an issue the general public can digest, and more importantly, act on.

Organizations serving at-risk populations often rely heavily on government grants and contracts, and when these funds suddenly disappear, many cannot bear the financial strain of maintaining full operations. With that in mind, it is more important than ever that individuals from the very communities who will endure the stoppage of services and programming are engaged in creating solutions to this issue.

For that reason we urge DCAYA’s members and allies to spread the word about the full effect of the shutdown and how young people here in the District are bearing a lack of services and supports. Please consider sharing this post with your personal networks and adding in your own story of how the young people you know/serve are being affected by the shutdown.

Congress needs to know how THEIR actions are affecting OUR youth. DCAYA wants to help share your story. Use #DCshutdownstories to tell them how your organization is effected by the furlough. Also, visit Susie Cambria's blog to see how you can take action against the federal shutdown!

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

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Expanded Learning for All

October is here. Shocking I know, but before we get mired in the pre-winter angst let’s all take a deep breath and enjoy all that October has to offer. No, I’m not talking about the sugar rush of Halloween. October is Lights on Afterschool Month. In short, October is when youth, parents, providers, advocates, policy makers and funders celebrate the powerful impact expanded learning programs have on our community, and commit to supporting them in the year to come.

In many ways DC is fortunate. We live in a city that is rich with youth development opportunities. Starting with the littlest of humans, programs like Jump Start and the The Homeless Children’s Playtime Project ensure all children start school ready to succeed. At the elementary level, parents take a collective sigh of relief knowing that their youngster has the opportunity to participate in programs that support whole child development. Programs like People Animals Love, FLOC, Jubilee Housing, and Horton’s Kids start to tease out and develop areas of cognitive strength while building competencies in areas of weakness. 

At the middle school level -- those 3-4 years that represent a time of greatest risk and greatest reward in youth development -- we can have faith that organizations like DC Scores, Higher Achievement, Kid Power, Inc., and Sitar Arts Center are connecting this vulnerable age group to positive opportunities, social networks, and caring & consistent adults.

By high school, expanded learning takes on a whole new level of nuance. As Urban Alliance, BUILD, Life Pieces to Master Pieces, Beacon House, and Sasha Bruce have demonstrated, expanded learning opportunities at the high school level means many things all at once. They are opportunities for tutoring, experiential learning, SAT/ACT prep, post-secondary and career exploration and finally, for continued pro-social development that can inform a lifetime of healthy decision-making.

High quality, expanded learning programming during non-school hours and the summer, is one piece of the educational pie One that cannot be underestimated: it’s how we excite disengaged learners, engage non-traditional learners, and allow high fliers to fly. It’s a rising tides lifts all boats scenario.

Unfortunately, only a fraction of our youth have the opportunity to participate. Decreases in funding to the DC Public School Out of School Time Programming and The Children Youth Investment Trust Corporation (among others) has gradually diminished the degree to which DC dollars support expanded learning opportunities.

So, if you believe that educational aptitude is not defined by test scores. If you want to know that we are cultivating investigative, not simply rote learners. If you know a youth who may not always excel in the classroom but thrives in a wood-shop, debate hall, on a theater stage or on the field. If you are a parent who wants to know that your child is participating in positive activities during the gap between the end of the school day and the end of the work day. Then October is your call to action. 

Follow DCAYA during the month of October as we rally together to call, email, tweet at, and send letters to Councilmembers and Mayor Gray letting the DC government know why expanded learning matters to us!  

By speaking up for your child, your family and your community, you can help us make sure the lights stay on for all DC youth. 

Maggie Riden is the Executive Director of DC Alliance of Youth Advocates. As a child, Maggie learned to read by participating in an after school theatre program which provided her with the confidence to overcome her reading disability. While she no longer participates in theatre, she credits the expanded learning program for having a profound impact on her adult life.

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