Budget Hearing Testimony of Rachel White, Senior Youth Policy Analyst, before the Committee on Executive Administration and Labor

April 5, 2023
Person Testifying: Rachel White
Title: Senior Youth Policy Analyst, DC Action
Testimony Heard By: DC Council Committee on Executive Administration and Labor
Type of Hearing: Budget Hearing
Topic of Testimony: Budget Hearing: Department of Employment Services

Good morning Committee Chair Bonds and members of the Committee of Executive Administration and Labor. Thank you for the opportunity to address the Council today. My name is Rachel White, and I am DC Action’s Senior Youth Policy Analyst. At DC Action, we use research, data, and a racial equity lens to break down barriers that stand in the way of all kids reaching their full potential. Our collaborative advocacy initiatives harness the power of young people and all residents to raise their voices to create change.

Through our Youth Economic Justice and Housing Coalition we advocate with youth and youth-serving organizations in the District of Columbia for policies, funding, and programs that expand access to comprehensive support and services that families and unaccompanied youth experiencing homelessness need to successfully transition into stable and productive adulthood. We are also the home of DC KIDS COUNT, an online resource that tracks key indicators of child and youth well-being.

One of our priorities is dismantling the pipeline from youth homelessness to chronic adult homelessness, which can only be done through intentional investments into positive youth development systems throughout the District. By investing early and helping young people find stability, we are cutting off a primary contributor to chronic adult and family homelessness. According to research done by Chapin Hall, “Voices of Youth Count,” for every day a young person waits for housing, they are 2% more likely to re-experience homelessness later in life. This is a cumulative statistic. Two days of waiting is equal to 4% more likely to re-experience homelessness as an adult.

One way to obstruct the youth to adult homelessness trajectory is by providing youth in the District a pathway to economic freedom in the form of workforce development opportunities and programs that meet their unique needs, access to higher education and trade programs, and access to employment that results in earning a livable wage.

While we advocate for job opportunities, we must acknowledge that youth experiencing homelessness often face unique challenges as they try to secure adequate employment. Their connections to school are often tenuous. With limited access to basic needs like showers, hygiene products, and interview attire, it is often difficult to take the steps necessary to secure and keep a job, let alone managing the day-to-day trauma of being homeless. When they do get a job, the positions often pay minimum wage, which is not a living wage for anyone. Many such youth find unreported employment (“under the table” work) and some resort to illegal activities to survive. Given the challenges youth face, it’s important for government agencies and service providers to create targeted programs and interventions that meet the particular needs of this population of youth.

Prior to the pandemic, maintaining employment for youth experiencing homelessness was already a challenge. Based on Youth Count data, 75% of parenting youth and 69% of non-parenting youth had no form of cash income.

As we center our discussion around creating equitable outcomes, it is also important to note that employment for transgender youth is even harder. In a 2015 survey by the National Center for Transgender Equality, one-fourth of DC residents who are transgender and applied for or held a job in the prior year reported being fired, denied a promotion, or not being hired for a job they applied for because of their gender identity or expression during the prior year.  Another quarter reported other forms of mistreatment based on their gender identity or expression during that year, such as being forced to use a restroom that did not match their gender identity, being told to present in the wrong gender in order to keep their job, or having a boss or coworker share private information about their transgender status with others without their permission. While this treatment is unacceptable for any DC resident, it poses particular challenges for youth already experiencing the trauma of homelessness.

While DOES offers workforce development opportunities that youth experiencing homelessness may qualify for, existing programs have limitations, and unfortunately, do not meet the specific workforce needs of youth experiencing homelessness. Existing programs either require youth to have obtained a high school diploma or equivalent (which may not be attainable for our population of young people experiencing housing insecurity). Some workforce programs have stringent age requirements, not all are trauma responsive, some do not provide incentives or stipends for participation, and no programs result in long-term guaranteed employment for youth with a livable wage.

We are asking the Committee of Executive Administration and Labor to allocate $1.1 million in funding to create a targeted workforce development program to meet the unique needs of youth experiencing homelessness throughout the District. A detailed policy brief has been sent to the office of all Committee members outlining two policy recommendations to improve the employment outcomes and experiences for youth experiencing homelessness. These recommendations are informed by program outcome data, youth focus groups, survey results, and youth homelessness providers.

In summary, $1.1 million dollars can be used to support either or both of the following solutions using Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) dollars or remaining American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds:

  1. DOES creates an RFP that mirrors the federal Department of Labor’s YouthBuild program to provide a local funding source to support the job placement needs of youth experiencing homelessness in the District.
    1. YouthBuild is a community-based alternative education program for youth between the ages of 16 and 24 who are no longer connected to school and who have also encountered risk factors such as housing instability, foster care involvement, or juvenile justice involvement. The YouthBuild model simultaneously addresses multiple core issues important to youth in under-resourced communities: affordable housing, leadership development, education, and employment opportunities with in-demand industries and apprenticeship pathways. YouthBuild programs also serve as the connection point to vital services for participants.
  2. DOES to increase grant funding for the AimHire job placement program offered through Friendship Place that focuses on employment for people experiencing homelessness throughout the District.
    1. AimHire uses an employment services model that assumes employability, offers expedited job-readiness coaching, and helps participants 18 and older who are experiencing homelessness obtain jobs quickly.
    2. With increased funding, Friendship Place can be expanded to employ more employment specialists to meet the needs of the 75% unemployed youth experiencing homelessness in the District. Increased funding can also equip Friendship Place with hiring a supportive support specialist to connect youth with the individualized services they need to ensure a smooth transition into long-term employment.

Thank you for your time and consideration. My full written testimony and policy brief was sent to the committee prior to the hearing. I would be happy  to answer any questions.

Rachel White, JD

Senior Youth Policy Analyst, DC Action