Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Homeless Youth Census: Data-Driven Advocacy Calls for Greater Investment to End Youth Homelessness

The National Coalition for the Homeless reports there are between 1 million and 1.7 million youth who have run away or been displaced from their home. Young people experiencing homelessness are not always seen as a visible street population, which often means there is little public awareness or political urgency to be found for taking critical and timely action. This was the case in the District just as recently as 2013, even though the handful of shelters serving youth at that time were reporting double-digit waitlists.

The District has come a long way since that time. In May 2014 the DC Council passed the End Youth Homelessness Amendment Act, which mandated and funded an expansion of accessible youth-friendly services and an annual census of District youth experiencing homelessness. The first annual Homeless Youth Census was conducted by the Department of Human Services (DHS) over a nine day period at the end of August 2015 in close collaboration with the Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness.

The census reveals that at that time, there were some 545 unaccompanied youth experiencing homelessness in the District of Columbia – almost half of whom identified as LGBTQ. This census marks the first time that we have such a thorough estimate of youth who are homeless (and particularly those identifying as LGBTQ) and the importance of having this knowledge cannot be overstated.

2015 Homeless Youth Census
Literally Homeless
Housing Insecure
Unaccompanied Youth 18-24
Unaccompanied Minors under 18
Source: DC Department of Human Services*
Data-Driven Advocacy
On February 25, 2016, DCAYA testified at the performance oversight hearing for DHS before the DC Council’s Committee on Health and Human Services:
  • DCAYA testified that the agency and community partners were on track to meet or exceed the mark on each requirement under the 2014 Act. With a relatively flat budget for youth services from FY2015 to FY2016, data on youth served suggests that DHS is improving upon its ability to use existing resources to connect more TAY youth to youth-friendly shelter, housing and case management services, and funnel fewer of these youth into the adult system.**
  • DCAYA testified that continued progress is going to require added investment in the coming fiscal year. The census data makes certain that we’ll need to scale up prevention services in the year ahead, as well as add to our supply of crisis beds and transitional and independent living spaces for youth, if we are to get to the point that actual youth homelessness in the District becomes rare, brief and non-recurring by 2020.
Greater Investment for Our Youth
Since the passage of the 2014 Act, local funding for homeless youth services has remained at $1.3 million per year, which in 2014 represented just a 15% increase to homeless youth resources from the budget passed in the previous year. It was a modest increase given the mandates of the Act, but at the time, we still had incomplete data to quantify the actual need.

But we know more now. If the results of the census show us anything, it’s that at any given time there are hundreds of youth moving from couch to couch, and when their options run short, shelter to shelter. This is not the existence we hope for our youth – this is not an existence where they are set up to receive their high school diploma, earn a college degree, complete an accredited vocational training program, or enter the workforce.

Equipped with our newfound knowledge of the homeless youth population and with the inclusive values held by many in our city, DC has an opportunity to lead. This is the year we need to more than double our local investment to emphasize prevention, reunification and meaningful interventions for these young people. These steps are necessary if we are to stick to a truly bold strategy to end youth homelessness in the District.
* Literally homeless means any youth residing in an emergency shelter, transitional housing, or who is otherwise unsheltered; while housing insecure means a person who is precariously housed and/or living in doubled up situations (generally with family or friends). Unaccompanied Youth are single persons up to the age of 24 who are living on their own and not residing with others.
** DHS is slowly but surely moving toward a more overall youth-friendly continuum of care by offering more safe and developmentally-appropriate services for TAY youth. In FY2015 more than 70% of TAY youth served were still receiving services through adult facilities, but as of February 2016, that percentage had declined to 58% of all youth served to date in FY2016, and the other 42% of TAY youth were receiving transitional housing supports at youth facilities on top of just shelter support.

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