Youths who are experiencing homelessness often do so without their parents or guardians and do not have children of their own. These “unaccompanied” homeless youth fall into two broad categories: those under age 18 and those who are 18 to 24 years old. In DC, youth under age 18 can only access housing and shelter dedicated to this population. Older youth, often called transition-aged youth (TAY), can access both TAY programs and adult housing and shelter. District leaders should make investments in the FY 2022 to expand services for youth in both categories.
True Colors United and the National Homelessness Law Center annually evaluate the District and the 50 states on laws and policies related to preventing and addressing youth homelessness. This year, they gave the District the first “A” grade in the program’s three-year history, deeming it “an incredible accomplishment.” This achievement reflects the hard work and collaboration of the Interagency Council on Homelessness (ICH), the ICH Youth Subcommittee, the Department of Human Services, the DC Council, this Committee, youth providers, and youth experiencing homelessness.
Looking forward, to tackle youth homelessness, the District must continue making investments in youth programs. And it is particularly important because youth experiencing homelessness on their own are particularly vulnerable and need programming that meets their developmental needs. As a partner of DC Action, DCFPI endorses their priorities for the FY 2022 budget:
- Preserve existing programs by maintaining the budget at the FY 2021 level. In December, the Department of Human Services (DHS) asked some programs asked some programs to propose cuts that would have led to reductions in hours and services, forcing youth to find a safe place to stay in the middle of the day during the pandemic, when most places were closed. This was at the same time as low-barrier shelters for single adults were open 24 hours per day—rather than their regular 12 hours—so they could reduce their COVID exposure. Fortunately, the budget outlook improved for FY 2021 and the DHS did not make these cuts. The District needs to ensure that all programs get fully funded for FY 2022.
- Pay for a cost analysis on the true costs of providing youth programs with $75,000 in one-time funding. Funding levels across youth programs vary greatly depending on the provider. This creates inconsistency in the quality and depth of services provided. An external cost analysis will help DHS and service providers create an ideal program model and budget accordingly.
- Invest $574,000 in workforce programming for homeless youth. In FY 2021, the Department of Employment Services cut this amount from their year-round youth employment program. By restoring this cut with local funds and specifically targeting these resources to homeless youth, the District can increase the number of homeless youth earning living wage jobs needed to afford housing.
- Fund $70,000 for professional development so agencies can hire youth who have experienced homelessness. Many youth who have experienced homelessness would like to work in the field to help others who are experiencing homelessness but most providers lack funding for training. This investment would pay for a series of year-long trainings that prospective staff at any provider could attend.
- Create a mobile behavioral health team that can meet youth where they are for $558,000. Timely access to prescriptions and regular participation in therapy can be challenging for homeless youth who often lack funds for transportation and must wait for months for appointments. A mobile behavioral health unit can visit youth sites to ensure easier and regular access.
- Pilot ten adult Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) slots for youth aging out of the youth system for $345,000. Right now, youth with high needs age out of the youth system and become homeless again. They are then competing for limited PSH slots with highly vulnerable adults who are older and have more severe medical needs. This pilot will allow the youth system to explore how to best transition high-need young people into the adult system.
- Invest $350,000 for a mentoring program pilot for 70 homeless youth. This is a request from youth experiencing homelessness. Access to mentors and supportive adults is critical to long-term success, but homeless youth face unique barriers to cultivating these kinds of connections.
DC will soon receive federal funding that can be used for the one-time costs like the cost analysis or initial costs for ongoing programs, but local funding will be needed to sustain these programs into future years.