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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