Chairman Graham and members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to testify today. My name is Kate Coventry, and I am a policy analyst with the DC Fiscal Policy Institute. DCFPI engages in research and public education on the fiscal and economic health of the District of Columbia, with a particular emphasis on how policies impact low-and-moderate income families.
I am here today to testify in support of the End Youth Homelessness Amendment Act of 2014.
The National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH) reports that though much is unknown about youth homelessness, particularly the numbers of youth affected and the comparative effectiveness of different interventions, enough is known to set 5 targets that communities should work towards. These are:
- Improve the crisis response.
- Prioritize family reunification or support as the initial intervention.
- Improve data collection and performance measurement.
- Collaborate with mainstream systems such as child welfare and juvenile justice.
- Expand the reach and effectiveness of transitional living programs.
DCFPI is thrilled that the legislation as introduced explicitly addresses the first three targets and includes activities that should address the last two targets. DCFPI encourages the Council to consider these targets as they contemplate changes to the legislation.
Improving the Crisis Response. NAEH reports that “youth are regularly turned away without a place to sleep.” This has certainly been the case in the District, when providers reported that nearly 300 youth seeking emergency shelter were turned away in February 2013. The legislation requires the establishment of a coordinated entry system (CES) for homeless youth to facilitate entry into shelter or other programs. Additionally the legislation requires a system for tracking utilization rates and turn-aways across service providers. Both of these provisions should prevent turn-aways in the future. The CES will ensure youths are directed to programs they qualify for and have openings. Tracking utilization and turn-aways will help the District evaluate whether capacity is sufficient and whether resources need to be shifted among programs.
Additionally, the legislation mandates the creation of a street outreach program, tasked with identifying youth in need of shelter or other services. Street outreach serves an invaluable role ‘ it allows service providers to build relationships with youth who may be hesitant to ask for help. These established relationships build trust and make it more likely that a youth will pursue services.
Finally, the legislation ensures that the District’s primary crisis response plan, the Winter Plan, will explicitly consider the needs of youth. During our testimony on the fiscal year (FY) 2014 Winter Plan, DCFPI expressed concern that the Winter Plan did not outline what would happen if the number of youth in need of emergency shelter outstripped the capacity on a hypothermic night. And that as a result, youth might end up outside during hypothermic weather, at-risk for cold weather injury and death. DCFPI strongly supports the clarification that the right to shelter guaranteed by the Homeless Services Reform Act (HSRA) applies to all District residents, regardless of age. With this clarification, the FY 2015 Winter Plan will have to outline procedures to be implemented if need outstrips capacity.