Final Budget Provides Some Support for Youth Experiencing Homelessness, But Not Enough
Unfunded Programs Would Have Provided Training, Mental Health Services, and Mentoring
August 4, 2021—The District’s FY22 Budget closes out with mixed results for youth experiencing homelessness. Due to our collective advocacy, the DC Council found funds to restore nearly $307,000 in cuts to shelter and emergency services, rapid rehousing, and extended transitional housing--all essential services that get and keep young people off the streets.
Equally important, Mayor Bowser funded, and DC Council maintained, 10 new permanent supportive housing units for young people aging out of the youth system who will need long-term support in the adult system. This investment is an important step forward in cutting off the pipeline to chronic homelessness. Right now, roughly 8% of homeless youth present with acute, and often untreated, mental and behavioral health needs and long histories of abuse and neglect. As a result, they need long-term housing and social service support that extends beyond the age of 25 when they age out of the youth services system. Youth have to reapply for services in the adult system where they are often forced to wait years, if not decades, before they are eligible for housing. By creating a seamless hand-off from the youth to adult system for the small number of youth we know will languish in homelessness without longer term support, we’re making meaningful progress toward ending the pathway into chronic adult homelessness.
In response to years of advocacy from the Youth Homelessness Advocacy Coalition, the DC Council has found funding to right size the per-unit investment for extended transitional housing (ETH). ETH is a service-enriched program that is designed for young people with long histories of abuse, neglect, trauma, and both educational and workforce disruptions. Like the 8% of youth aging out of our system who need Permanent Supportive Housing longer term, our young people need multiple years of housing and social services support to heal, grow, and find stability. Typically, they need longer periods of time and deeper mental and behavioral health services than are available in programs like transitional housing. Yet historically, ETH programs have been funded at a lower rate than other services designed for far less vulnerable young people (e.g. shelter, transitional housing). As result, providers struggled to afford the deep wraparound services that ETH young people need to find stability and success. With increased per-unit funding, providers will be able to fully embed the clinical, social and emotional, job training, and life skills services young people need to thrive independently in the future.
While we’re pleased to see these two big investments, we remain disappointed to see that neither Mayor Bowser nor the DC Council could find just over $1.6 million to fund the remaining program areas in our youth advocacy agenda. 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, behavioral health, and mentorship would have gone far to improve the lives and experiences of our young people. This failure to act is particularly disappointing given that American Recovery Act dollars could have been used to fund many of these programs.
“We cannot expect our city to succeed, or our young people to flourish when they are denied basic rights to housing, education, and opportunity,” said DC Action Executive Director Kimberly Perry. “The District could have been a leader in helping reverse the loss of academic, economic, and social and emotional growth experienced by our most vulnerable youth in the last 18 months. We’re disappointed that the District did not seize this opportunity to invest in our youth.”
DC Action is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization making the District of Columbia a place where all kids grow up safe, resilient, powerful and heard. DC Action uses research, data, and a racial equity lens to break down barriers that stand in the way of all kids reaching their full potential. We are home to DC Kids Count, Under 3 DC, DC Out-of-School Time Coalition, the DC Home Visiting Council and the Youth Homelessness Advocacy Coalition. Our collaborative advocacy campaigns bring the power of young people and all residents to raise their voices to create change.