Budget Hearing Testimony of Senior Policy Analyst Rachel White before the Committee on Housing

March 31, 2023
Testimony
Person Testifying: Rachel White
Title: Senior Youth Policy Analyst, DC Action
Testimony Heard By: DC Council Committee on Housing
Type of Hearing: Budget Hearing
Topic of Testimony: Budget Hearing for Department of Human Services

Good morning, Committee Chair White and members of the Committee on Housing. Thank you for the opportunity to address the Council today with respect to the proposed budget of the Department of Human Services.

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.

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 disconnected and 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, and a proud member of the Fair Budget Coalition.

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. 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.

Two ways to obstruct the youth to adult homelessness trajectory are by providing youth in the District a youth homelessness sector that is fully funded so providers can continue to provide quality programming that meets the needs of youth, and by creating a pathway to economic freedom in the form of workforce development opportunities that result in long-term employment with a livable wage.

We appreciate the Council’s dedication to locating $1.2 million to increase youth homelessness provider contracts in FY23. However, this did not go far enough to meet the continued needs of youth homelessness providers and the youth they serve. Operating in a sector that is not fully funded exacerbates the existing gaps in service delivery for youth experiencing homelessness.

We are asking the Council to increase youth homelessness provider contracts by at least 9% to account for inflation and also to give providers the opportunity to administer recruitment and retention bonuses for frontline staff to ensure continuity of care for youth served by programs. A 9% increase translates into the Council allocating an additional $3.5 million in funding to the youth homelessness continuum.

I will now focus my testimony on the continued need for targeted workforce development programming for youth experiencing homelessness. 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 in the District of Columbia. Given the challenges youth face, it’s important for government agencies and service providers to create targeted programs and interventions that meet the unique 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 focus our discussion around creating equitable outcomes for all residents, it is also important to note that finding 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.

DHS initially responded to the disparities in employment for youth experiencing homelessness who identify as LGBTQ+ by issuing an RFP soliciting detailed proposals to establish a Wraparound Workforce Development Program for Transgender, Nonbinary, and Gender-Nonconforming District youth, ages 18-24 who are experiencing or at risk of experiencing homelessness. However, this program was cut by $667,000 –down to zero–in the FY24 budget. We are asking that this funding be restored so local community based organizations can continue to provide a critical service.

In addition, we are asking the Committee on Housing to coordinate with the Committee on Executive Administration and Labor to locate an additional $1.1 million in funding to create a targeted workforce development program for youth experiencing homelessness mirroring the federal YouthBuild program. The YouthBuild program is a workforce development model that simultaneously addresses multiple core issues important to youth in under-resourced communities: affordable housing, wraparound services, leadership development, education, and employment opportunities with in-demand industries and apprenticeship pathways. Currently there is no workforce development program offered through DOES that results in long-term employment with a livable wage or provides necessary wraparound services. We are asking the Council to require DOES to create a MOU with DHS to provide this service.

To reiterate, we are asking the Committee on Housing to:

  • Ensure the youth homelessness sector is fully funded to meet the unique needs of youth experiencing homelessness by increasing youth homelessness provider contracts by $3.5 million
  • Restore $667,000 in funding to support workforce development programming for youth experiencing homelessness who identify as LGBTQ+
  • Collaborate with the Committee on Executive Administration and Labor to locate $1.1 million in funding to create a target workforce development program with wraparound services for youth experiencing homelessness in the District.

Thank you for your time and consideration. My full written testimony 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