Thursday, February 19, 2015

From Chicago to DC - Homeless Youth Share Similar Challenges

On February 24th, DCAYA is partnering with OSSE, Sasha Bruce, and a number of homeless youth providers to host a screening on the critically acclaimed documentary “The Homestretch”. Following the documentary will be a panel discussion with leading homeless youth advocates on what the District and individuals can do to combat this growing problem.

“The Homestretch” follows three Chicago teens as they navigate the education and services system while struggling with the realities of homelessness. As described in The Atlantic, “the documentary demonstrates the complexity of the issue – a problem that’s often hidden from the public eye.” While different scenarios caused the film’s protagonists to become homeless – indentifying as LGBTQ, facing obstacles with immigrant status, and fleeing from stepparent abuse – the challenges these individuals face closely mirror those of D.C.’s homeless youth population.

Watch a live stream of the panel discussion at 7:30PM on Tuesday, February 24th:

Photo courtesy of "The Homestretch"

National data shows that approximately 40% of youth experiencing homelessness identify as LGBTQ. With only 10% of the total population identifying as LGBTQ, this small subset of youth represents a large proportion of the homeless population.

While better data is needed to truly understand the scope of homelessness among LGBTQ youth in DC, anecdotal evidence reflects a similar narrative to Kasey’s. In a 2011 DCAYA study on youth homelessness, one respondent wrote, “At age 17 I was kicked out and ‘disowned’ by the very family that raised me. Why, do you ask? Well, it was because of my sexuality.”

Photo courtesy of "The Homestretch"

Youth are underrepresented during the annual point-in-time count to calculate the number of homeless individuals in a city because unsurprisingly, youth do not want others to know they are homeless. High school is hard enough without dealing with the stigma of homelessness.

Even more underrepresented, however, are Latino youth because of reasons similar to Roque. Some Latino youth are forced to stay undetected and not seek services because they fear getting themselves, or their family, in trouble with immigration.  This poses a particularly difficult challenge around funding services for Latino youth because while the need is apparent, the numbers are elusive.

Photo courtesy of "The Homestretch"

During the 2014 point-in-time study conducted by the Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness, 907 families in DC were in emergency shelters – a huge jump from 464 families in 2013.  Of those families, half are young parents under 24.

With the surge in family homelessness, and young workers in DC facing a 16% unemployment rate, young parents have few options to get themselves out of a shelter and onto a path of long term stability. DC helps families exit shelter through Rapid Re-housing, a program that combines rental assistance and case management for generally up to 12 months. Rapid Re-housing programs, however, are finding that youth need more intensive case management, life skills training, and educational options in order for young parents to begin paying rent without assistance.

While further data is needed on DC’s Rapid Re-housing outcomes, the need for youth-focused transitional housing programs is clear, especially with DC expecting to see a 16% rise in family homeless this winter.

Be on the lookout for information on a large community screening happening in DC in the Spring and how you can get involved with local youth homelessness advocacy efforts. 

Watch a trailer of the film here: 

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Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Busting Myths On Youth Homelessness

During these busy months of advocacy season, it’s always a good idea to do a quick refresher on the basics. That’s why we’ve updated our Youth Homelessness one-pager. Take a look! The one-pager gives the basic stats on youth homelessness in DC and summarizes recent efforts to tackle the issue.

Besides just the facts and figures though, advocacy season is also an important time to identify and debunk policy myths that have been floating around. So here are the top three youth homelessness myths that we’ve heard this past the year, along with how we debunk them.

MYTH: Providing emergency shelter for youth encourages them to leave their families.

Family reunification is the top priority for DC agencies and community-based organizations. From the moment a young person walks through their door, the service providers are thinking about if, how, and when the youth can connect to family members who can support them. This is best practice and follows federal guidelines. 
Family reunification is achieved through different paths, depending on the dynamics of the situation. Sometimes functional family therapy is the best tool. Sometimes finding other relatives where the youth can stay for a period of time is the best solution. Other times the youth needs to form a therapeutic bond with service providers before they can learn to mimic that with their own family. Usually the solution is some combination of these three. 
It is important to remember, though, that family reunification is not always achievable or a good idea. One quick example is when a youth identifies as a member of the LGBTQ community and no family member is willing to support them based on their sexuality. 
Remember, these youth are not leaving home as a result of a little fight with their parents. Youth do not check into shelter like you would check into a hotel. DC homeless youth have told us that they seek services because they have nowhere else to turn.

MYTH: Youth from outside DC come into DC just to take advantage of our homelessness services.

Historic oppression, a struggling education system, and rising inequality have created a dire situation for DC youth. It is heartbreaking. Yes, youth, like most people, go in and out of the boundaries of DC every day. Homeless youth, especially, have to shuffle from family member, to friend, to acquaintance in order to find food and shelter. But make no mistake: these are our youth, and they are not “shopping around” to find the best deal. 
Sleeping on peoples’ couches, whether they are in DC or a half mile outside it, can be dangerous for a young person. Youth will tell you, receiving favors usually comes at a cost; some form of payment for sleeping on a person’s couch is eventually required, which could mean running drugs or engaging in unwanted sexual acts. We have to protect our youth and that starts by claiming them as our own.

MYTH: Youth homelessness issues should only be dealt with by the Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA).

CFSA's mandate is to remove minors (under age 18) from high-risk, domestic situations where parental abuse or neglect is reported. This unimaginably difficult work is critical to protecting DC children and youth. 
However, youth who are experiencing a hostile home environment – but not abuse or neglect – are the young people who fall through the cracks and often become homeless.  
Take the earlier example of the young person who identifies as LGBTQ. The young person may be experiencing a hostile environment because their parent or guardian does not support them based on their sexuality. This fact does not necessarily mean that the parent or guardian is abusing or neglecting their child, however, the young person is at a high-risk of leaving or feeling forced to leave and becoming homeless 
CFSA does however, have the power to refer parents of minors in low- to mid-risk situations to Community Collaboratives which provide voluntary services, such as family reunification and counseling programs. Many times though, families will not follow up with the Community Collaboratives because of a lack of trust and fear of stigma around receiving services from the child welfare system. 
This is why DC must look beyond just using CFSA as an agency to house homeless youth and work closely with community based organizations that are designed to provide services to both minors and youth up to 24 who leave their home because of reasons that fall outside of CFSA’s mandate.

Thanks for brushing up on your youth homelessness policy basics. Be sure to let us know if you’ve heard any youth homelessness policy myths floating around and tell us how you debunk them!

Katie Dunn is the youth homelessness and expanded learning policy analyst at DCAYA. You can follow learn more about youth issues in DC by following Katie on twitter 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

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Creating Career Pathways for DC Youth

Guest blogger Martha Ross is a fellow at the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program whose work focuses on education, training, and the labor market. 

This week, Martha highlights recommendations from a recently released report “Improving Youth Programs and Outcomes in Washington, D.C.”.

No one is satisfied with the educational and employment outcomes of District youth, nor should they be. Consider a few data points: 

  • Unemployment rates skyrocketed during the recession and have yet to recover, disproportionately affecting younger workers. In 2013, unemployment among teens aged 16-19 in the District stood at 34%. Among young adults aged 20-24 it was 12.3%, and among the total population it was 8.6%. 
  • Only about two-thirds of public high school students graduate in four years. 
  • Unacceptably large numbers of low-income young people with lower levels of education—about 8,300, or 9% of all young people aged 16 to 24—are “disconnected,” meaning they are neither in school nor employed. 

So what should we do? In a recent report I co-authored with Mala B. Thakur, Improving Youth Programs and Outcomes in Washington, D.C., I outline two areas for action. 

1.) Programs serving youth should use data to measure their progress towards reaching their goals.
This practice would help young people increase their skills, educational credentials, and employment outcomes.  This sounds almost laughably commonsensical but it’s harder to do than it sounds.  Most organizations serving youth are well aware of the power of data, but on any given day, data-related tasks are vulnerable to being outranked by more immediate priorities. Organizations can find it difficult to direct resources toward data and evaluation, since it usually directly competes with service delivery. 
One concrete step would be for funders to support a community of practice for service providers to improve their use of data for learning, self-evaluation, and ongoing improvement.  A community of practice is a learning partnership among people who find it useful to learn from and with each other about a particular topic.  In this case, members would be helping each other “get better at getting better.” 

2.) Use a career pathways framework to build a more coherent youth employment system. 
A career pathway provides progressive levels of education, training, and support services to prepare people for employment and career advancement. As defined by the Center for Law and Social Policy, career pathways incorporate three features: a) multiple entry points, both for the well-prepared and those with limited skills, b) well-connected education, training, and support services within specific occupational or industry-based career opportunities, and c) multiple exit points at successively higher levels of skills or more senior employment opportunities.

This recommendation focuses on improving how different organizations (adult education, K-12, community college, nonprofits) interact with each other to provide a structured sequence of education, training and other services. That’s why a task force or collaborative effort led by such entities as RAISE DC, the Workforce Investment Council, and the Office of the State Superintendent of Education could be the appropriate vehicle to lead this effort.

Essential Features of a Career Pathway System

Source:  CLASP, “Shared Vision, Strong Systems:  The Alliance for Quality Career Pathways Framework Version 1.0” (2014)

In conclusion:  The status quo demands a continuous and targeted focus on quality improvement and system-building.  Too few young people in DC meet key educational and employment milestones in the transition to adulthood. We can do better.

DCAYA would like to thank Martha Ross for contributing to our weekly blog, as well as her valuable research towards improving outcomes for District youth.

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