After First Council Vote, Budget Provides Some–but Not Enough–Support
for Youth and Families Experiencing Homelessness
Unfunded Programs Would Have Provided Mental Health Services and Workforce Development Opportunities for Youth Experiencing Homelessness
May 10, 2022- Today’s first vote on the DC FY23 budget closes out with mixed results for youth and families experiencing homelessness. Due to our collective advocacy and the testimony of youth impacted by homelessness, the DC Council allocated $1.1 million to begin the process of right-sizing contracts for youth homelessness providers, with a little over $500,000 being marked as one time funding. While increasing provider contracts is a step in the right direction, it does not go nearly far enough to meet the requested $3.15 million in funding that youth homelessness direct service providers need to continue providing high-quality wrap-around services while assisting youth establish long-term stability. For the past two years, youth homelessness contracts within the District have been level funded. Service providers have been forced to raise outside funds in order to keep the same services and maintain staffing. This is an unsustainable strategy and at some point, a reduction in services will become unavoidable. There is a need to increase grant funding by $3.15 million for youth homelessness service providers, in order to prevent a reduction of services in the near future.
Equally important, Mayor Bowser’s proposed FY23 budget includes $500,000 in new investments for an LGBTQ low-barrier shelter for 20 youth, $189,000 to expand beds for pregnant and parenting youth, $667,000 for new workforce initiatives to support transgender and gender non-conforming youth experiencing homelessness, and $44.4 million in new funding to support rapid rehousing for families experiencing homelessness but does not include provisions to protect families from falling into homelessness once they are exited from Rapid Rehousing, as families are exited due to meeting time constraints as opposed to being connected to long-term housing.
While we’re pleased to see these investments, we remain disappointed to see that neither Mayor Bowser nor the DC Council could find just over $1.5 million to fund the remaining program areas in our youth advocacy agenda: targeted workforce development and increased access to behavioral health services for youth experiencing homelessness. At a time when youth crime is soaring, young people are struggling to remain on track academically and economically and are suffering the trauma of persistent social isolation and disruption. The modest investments we called for in workforce programming and behavioral health would have gone far to improve the lives and experiences of our young people.
Targeted Workforce Development for Youth Experiencing Homelessness
During the FY23 budget season, youth impacted by homelessness, youth homelessness service providers, and youth homelessness experts all testified on the existing gaps in current workforce development initiatives throughout the District to meet the needs of youth experiencing homelessness and the need to invest $1 million in the creation of a targeted workforce development program. Despite the stated need from youth impacted by homelessness and supporting data to support the need, $0 was allocated from the Mayor or the DC Council.
If our youth are going to retain stable housing and successfully exit our homelessness system, they need quality jobs with strong earning potential. Yet, at present, nearly 70% of the District’s homeless youth report having no cash income, meaning sustained independence is entirely out of reach.
Increasing Access to Behavioral Health Supports for Youth Experiencing Homelessness
During the FY23 budget season, youth impacted by homelessness, youth homelessness service providers, and youth homelessness experts all testified to the barriers youth experiencing homelessness face when accessing behavioral health supports throughout the District. We requested $558,000 to create a mobile behavioral health unit to increase access to mental health supports, however we received $0 in funding.
A lack of accessible, youth-friendly, and culturally competent mental health services is a major barrier to long-term stability for our youth. After two years of research, we proposed the development of a mobile behavioral health team. This unit would rotate between youth homelessness services programs to provide assessments, counseling and therapy, and medication management on a weekly basis. If properly aligned with the Department of Behavioral Health Services, these behavioral health services will facilitate pathways into DBH-funded community services that would then serve our youth long term.
We have to meet our youth where they are, and in this case, that means literally bringing behavioral health clinical services to where our young people physically congregate. This investment has the potential to address youth trauma, substance abuse treatment, medication management, and long-term mental health supports, all of which will decrease the likelihood of sustained or future homelessness.