Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Campaign Trail Comes Through DCAYA


There are campaign signs up on light poles, #DCision14 in tweets, and more debates and forums around town than even the candidates themselves can keep up with. Campaign season is in full swing in the District, and here at DCAYA we are in on the action. This year we are debuting our DCAYA Candidate Questionnaire.

As advocates for the youth of DC, we recognize that one of the critical starting points of a youth-friendly city is educating potential policymakers and the people who vote for them. This year we chose the Socratic method - ask the candidates basic questions about youth issues in DC and have them research, then articulate their answers in less than 150 words.

We had a 100% response rate. Every candidate in every race —Ward 1, Ward 3, Ward 5, Ward 6, At-Large, Chair, and Mayoral -- gave us their answers to our questions. [Please note:  We are only covering the candidates in a race for the primary election on April 1 (all Democrats). We will do another questionnaire to cover everyone else in the general election later in the year.]

The candidates’ answers will be released on our website this Monday, February 24. They answered the five questions listed below. The first question allows them to broadly outline their youth-specific priorities. The following four questions focus on the DCAYA issue areas: youth homelessness, youth workforce development, expanded learning, and disconnected youth.

Now we present the questions to you: the youth service provider, the young citizen in DC, the concerned resident. An educated, voting public is far more important than any candidate elected to office. Your homework (or as we like to call it “guided internet surfing”) for the next few days is to research the best answers to these questions.  That way you'll be ready to evaluate the candidates’ responses and decide who you support. If you are a youth service provider, this can even be a great activity to walk through with your youth. Happy surfing:

The Questions
1) What youth-specific legislation would you introduce in your first 100 days of office?

2) Homelessness is a clear and present issue in the District of Columbia. Homelessness among minors (under 18), youth (18-24), and young parents (under 24) is a particularly acute and complex issue. How will you address this issue?

3) Only 13.2% of 16-19 years olds and 42% of 20-24 years olds were able to find paid, unsubsidized employment that they were qualified for in DC in 2011. What is your plan to improve successful entry to the workforce for DC youth?

4) Recent studies have shown that quality expanded learning improves DC youths’ cognitive and non-cognitive skills. Yet, each year there are thousands of DC youth who remain unable to participate in programs that improve academic, social/emotional, health and workforce readiness outcomes. What do you think are the barriers? How would you remove the barriers you’ve identified?
5) In DC, around 14,000 youth are disconnected from school and work. The majority of them are trying to re-engage, but there are many obstacles including a time-consuming childcare voucher system, costly public transport, and having to go to several bureaus to get proper documentation. How would you most effectively address these barriers?

Have an answer or opinion to any of the questions above? You can join the conversation by adding your two cents below. We want to hear! And remember, follow us on Twitter at @DCAYA and @KDunnTweets so you can be the first to know when the candidates answers are released this coming Monday.

The Democratic Primary, April 1st, is just around the corner. We look forward to seeing our educated, youth-focused audience at the polls!

Katie Dunn is the Youth Homelessness and Expanded Learning Policy Analyst at DCAYA. Her first experience in politics was being on a campaign radio commercial when she was 5 years old. Look for her tweets around the election and youth issues 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

Friday, February 14, 2014

A Mom's Testimony

DC Alliance of Youth Advocates will post captivating, moving, and educational testimonies throughout the Performance Oversight and Budget hearing season. To watch the full hearings visit the DC Council website:

A young mom of four from Northwest, DC put her own well-being at risk to avoid raising children in a shelter situation. It wasn’t until her son was the target of her husband’s aggression that she reported the abuse and sought help. For thirty days, the DC mom and her children were placed in a hotel room, after which she had to find alternative accommodations.  Her only resort was to rely on a friend, who had five children of her own. The overcrowded apartment became too much, once again, she is left finding shelter this winter for her and her family. A situation she never wanted her children to endure. Listen to the mother's testimony below:

The video is pixelated to protect the privacy of the public witness.

While heartbreaking, this story is sadly not unusual. There are a record number of D.C. families seeking shelter this winter, 50% of those families headed by a parent 24 years of age or younger. Marta Bersen from the Washington Legal Clinic identified driving factors in her testimony, as well as solutions she believed the Department of Human Services (DHS) should adopt to halt the crisis in the short term and remedy the problems in the long term. Watch Marta Bersen's testimony here. 

Councilmember Jim Graham asked the Director of the DHS, David Berns, how much it is costing the city to react to the homeless crisis. Director Berns stated that it is hard to tell, but cost was clearly a factor when the DHS made the decision to start using cots at recreation centers to house the overflow. According to Director Berns,  “Once we switched from making the placements into the hotels and into the rec centers the demand has virtually disappeared.”. Watch David Bern's full response here.

While opening the Parks and Rec Centers may have seemed like a quick fix to Director Berns, both Marta and Jamila Larson from the Homeless Children’s Playtime Project mentioned the fear families have regarding their children sleeping next to strangers. Marta explained, “The law requires the safety, health, and stability of homeless children. Most families have left the rec center after staying one or two nights. This means that while they felt unsafe staying in their cars, at Union Station, with abusers, or in ER rooms, they felt less safe sharing space with strangers in DC rec centers.” Watch Jamilia Larson's testimony here.

The mother echoed this point at the end of her testimony as she broke down from the weight of her dire situation, “I would have endured getting hit every day than to be homeless with four children. Because that’s hard. To be with your four children and not know where you’re going to be next.”.* 

*DCAYA would like to clarify that individuals in domestic violence situations are encouraged to seek domestic violence services as some resources are available. Please contact DC Coalition Against Domestic Violence or MPD Domestic Violence Unit if you are experiencing domestic violence.

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, February 06, 2014

A Step Forward for Homeless LGBTQ Youth

As you’ve likely heard by now, DC is facing an unprecedented family shelter crisis. On Monday, dozens of shelter residents, advocates and providers shared heartbreaking stories with DC Council at the Committee on Human Services Roundtable. As of February 2nd, 754 families, including 1,433 children, were placed at either DC General or in emergency hotel rooms. As families continue to seek assistance at the District’s family intake facility Virginia Williams Family Resource Center, the Department of Human Services has admitted that the situation is rapidly spiraling downward as options become increasingly limited

What much of this coverage hasn’t reported is that between 30-40% of these families are headed by a young parent or parents 24 years old or younger. Homeless youth are often referred to as an invisible population because they utilize family and friends as a resource to stay warm by couch surfing, finding temporary living situations, or placing themselves in an unsafe environment to avoid the stigma of homelessness. This year however, many youth have run out of such options as family and friends are beginning to experience the same plight.Youth and their families are now being forced out of doubled up situations and into a more traditional shelter system.

DCAYA seeks to cut off the pipeline to family and chronic homelessness by supporting investments in front-end youth services. By catching these young people and flooding them with supports before they’ve used up their options, youth may avoid walking through the doors of an adult or family shelter.

So, while there is still much to be done to resolve the family shelter crisis, the sadness of Monday’s hearing was followed by at least a glimmer of hope on Tuesday when DC Council voted almost unanimously (Marion Barry was absent) to pass the “LGBTQ Homeless Youth Reform Amendment Act of 2014”.

After 18 months of diligent work by providers, advocates and policy makers, the Homeless LGBTQ Legislation is a step forward in creating a system where our most vulnerable youth do not need to hit rock bottom before they can access supports and services.

The legislation accomplishes a number of things:
  • It increases the number of beds for homeless LGBTQ youth, an already underserved population, from 8-18.
  • It establishes a routine count of homeless youth that includes LGBTQ youth, so we can continue to grow our system in a data informed way.
  • It mandates and funds cultural competency training for all shelter providers to ensure that no matter where a youth makes contact with the shelter system, the staff they encounter are sensitive to their unique needs.

Now we are awaiting for Mayor Gray’s signature to pass the legislation into law. He has 10 days to sign and it is our responsibility as a community so let the office of the Mayor know you support this legislation! While, the work towards ending chronic, youth, and family homelessness is far from over, Tuesday’s win is a great example of what government officials, youth providers, community members and, most importantly, youth can accomplish when we come together towards a solution-based goal. 

Contact the Mayor’s office by:
  • Emailing the Executive Office of the Mayor 
  • Tweeting Out Your Support to Mayor Gray
  • Calling the Executive Office of the Mayor to Voice Your Support 

Maggie Riden is the Executive Director of DC Alliance of Youth Advocates and was a involved in the creation of the LGBTQ homeless youth legislation since it's conception. To learn more about the issues our homeless youth face in the District, visit and read our Youth Homelessness issue brief one-pager

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