Wednesday, March 18, 2015

DCAYA Testifies about Youth Homelessness

This week’s blog post is an excerpt from testimony given by Maggie Riden, the Executive Director of DC Alliance of Youth Advocates, at the Department of Human Services performance oversight hearing on March 12, 2015. The following entry was edited for length. 

Good morning Chairwoman Alexander, fellow Councilmembers, and committee staff. My name is Maggie Riden and I am the Executive Director of DC Alliance of Youth Advocates, a coalition of over 130 youth-serving organizations in the District.  Today, I would like to welcome the new Director of the Department of Human Services and identify the key areas in which DHS can move forward.

It is indeed a “fresh start” for DHS.  We are committed to working with Director Zeilinger to prevent homelessness, improve homeless services, and find stable housing solutions in the District.  In order for this collaborative effort to work, transparency and communication are critical to building a system which properly serves homeless youth.  

First and foremost, DCAYA is concerned by the unclear and seeming slow implementation pace of the Homeless Youth Reform Act of 2013 and the End Youth Homelessness Act of 2014. Having a clearer timeline and transparent funding information is essential for collaborative planning of youth-specific services. This point is especially poignant, because as we speak, there are youth on waiting lists for emergency and transitional beds. We urge DHS to clarify the internal status of the funding and layout next steps to ensure proper implementation.

There is also a need for greater transparency and communication among the services offered to youth-headed families.  This is clearly illustrated in the updated status on the implementation of the Rudd report recommendations. For example:

Rudd report:

“Recommendation 6.1:  Increase the number of on-site case managers to identify and engage those families who are difficult to serve.”

DHS Answer:

“DHS and TCP provide case management services to all families in shelter.  In addition, the Bowser administration recently announced the creation and funding of housing navigators who will be responsible for specifically assisting families with their housing needs, allowing case managers to focus on other issues.”  

This DHS answer does not present clear information on whether additional case managers were hired, how many case managers were hired, if the case managers are full or part-time employees, or the credentials of the case managers.  DHS must communicate transparent information on the status of its implementation of the Rudd recommendations, including basic data on implemented changes, written protocols, training materials, and explanation of mechanisms.  Relisha was not the only young person taken from DC General - DHS must clearly articulate the steps being taken to ensure such tragedies do not repeat themselves.  

Meanwhile, there are pockets of great work happening in our community around youth homelessness.  The Interagency Council on Homelessness (ICH) is helping agencies and community-service providers in developing and implementing the Coordinated Entry for youth.  DHS is playing a role in this process, and the role must continue to grow, as the issue falls squarely within DHS’s mandate.  

The Coordinated Entry system is identifying the knots, gaps, and workarounds present in the current system of youth services.  It is time for DHS and its partners to untangle the systemic workarounds covering up the problem of youth homelessness.  It is time for DHS and its partners to build a system which connects youth to best-fit services and programs.  With the new funding provided by the youth homelessness legislation, DHS and its partners have the resources to meet the needs of homeless youth with new, transparent, and well-communicated policies and programs.  

DHS has an incredibly difficult job in the District, where inequality is rapidly growing and intergenerational poverty is deeply-rooted. We do not ask for quick solutions, but we do demand greater transparency and communication.  It is the only way that we, as a community, will fix the horrible reality of vast homelessness in the District.

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