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

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