Targeted Workforce Development Opportunities will Improve Outcomes for Youth Experiencing Homelessness in the District

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March 31, 2023
Policy Brief

By: Rachel White, Senior Youth Policy Analyst

The State of Youth Experiencing Homelessness in the District

Youth homelessness is a significant problem throughout the District–roughly 1,934 youth (ages from 16 to 24) experiencing homelessness received services from DC’s Department of Human Services (DHS) in 2022 alone. Nearly 300 of those young people were parents1, creating a two-generational homelessness crisis. DC Action believes the number of unhoused youth is actually much higher because of the impacts of the pandemic and the inability of DHS to count youth who are not connected to existing programming.

The District’s Black and LGBTQIA+ young people are disproportionately likely to experience homelessness. In 2021, 40% of all youth 18-24 in the District identified as Black, while making up 77% of the youth homelessness population. In 2022, 15% of youth experiencing homelessness identified as LGBTQ+, but this number is probably much higher, however, as gender identity or sexual orientation data was not collected for 43% of all youth.

The root causes of youth homelessness are varied, but often include an unsafe home environment due to domestic violence, parental addiction, or family conflict due to prejudice against sexual orientation or gender expression; transitions from systems involvement (foster care, detention, or other institutional placements); family poverty; undocumented status; and lack of affordable housing.

Without stable housing, it is incredibly difficult for young people to secure and maintain employment because of institutional barriers to success. Unsurprisingly, youth experiencing homelessness continue to be disproportionately unemployed in the District, with 75% of parenting youth and 69% of non-parenting youth experiencing homelessness receiving no cash income. Once homeless, young people face even greater obstacles in finding and securing employment, trapping them in poverty.

Even for those young people who manage to find employment despite being homeless, one out of four parenting youth, and nearly one-third of unaccompanied youth still do not earn enough to afford housing in DC. It’s clear that even those who work do not have access to the quality, living-wage and family sustaining jobs they need to succeed in the workforce. This is the result of policy failure to address the root causes of homelessness.

What is the District Doing to Address the Employment Needs of Youth Experiencing Homelessness?

The District offers a number of workforce development programs targeted toward young people, but none of them are adequately designed to meet and serve the specific needs of young people experiencing homelessness, which is why a tailored program is so desperately needed.

In the District, the Department of Employment Services (DOES) houses the Office of Youth Programs (OYP) which develops and administers workforce development programs for District youth ages 14-24. OYP provides occupational skills training, work experience, academic enrichment, and life skills training to facilitate the development of work habits and skills that are essential for success in the workplace. However, as is clear from the high rate of youth homelessness and unemployment rate among young people, the agency is missing the mark as it fails to adequately serve youth who are experiencing homelessness. Specifically:

The District offers a number of workforce development programs targeted toward young people, but none of them are adequately designed to meet and serve the specific needs of young people experiencing homelessness, which is why a tailored program is so desperately needed.

In the District, the Department of Employment Services (DOES) houses the Office of Youth Programs (OYP) which develops and administers workforce development programs for District youth ages 14-24. OYP provides occupational skills training, work experience, academic enrichment, and life skills training to facilitate the development of work habits and skills that are essential for success in the workplace. However, as is clear from the high rate of youth homelessness and unemployment rate among young people, the agency is missing the mark as it fails to adequately serve youth who are experiencing homelessness. Specifically:

  • No employment program offered by DOES connects youth to long-term employment with a livable wage to truly mitigate the impacts of poverty. In fact, youth are often connected to short-term employment such as internships and temporary employment.
  • No program offers the connection to supportive services such as mental health and childcare.
  • In some instances, youth are simply unable to access the program due to stringent requirements such as being enrolled in school or having received a high school diploma or GED.

There is no data publicly available to determine the number of youth experiencing homelessness who receive employment services through youth programming offered at DOES. The failure to collect and report on this data compounds the challenges the District already faces in designing and implementing the workforce programs that some of our most vulnerable young people need to even begin to have a fair shot

Details of existing District-led youth workforce programs can be found in the chart below:

DOES Youth Employment Programs

Program Description/Goals

Population Served

Program Budget 2 3

Mayor Marion S. Barry Summer Youth Employment Program

(MBSYEP)

This program provides District youth with enriching and constructive summer work experiences through subsidized placements in the private and government sectors. Serves youth ages 14-24. In 2022 13,190 participants worked at least 1 hour during the duration of the program. Another 330 received soft skills training.

Participants residing in Wards 7 & 8 represented the majority of youth served (28% and 29%, respectively).

Black youth make up the overwhelming majority of applicants, comprising 83%.

49% of all applicants were enrolled in high school.

With ARPA funding the program included 5,644 youth in the Earning for Learning program in FY22.

$27.9 million
Mayor’s Opportunity Scholarship This program provides 75 scholarships in the amount of $2,000 each for young adults, who have successfully attained a high school diploma or equivalent, participated in MBSYEP and enrolled in post-secondary education or occupational skills training or the military. Serves youth 18-24

DOES did not provide demographic data on participants in response to our request.

$150k
School Year Internship Program Provides work-readiness skills, project-based learning, life skills, leadership development training, and work opportunities for District youth. The goal of the program is to help prepare District youth to successfully transition from high school into postsecondary education, advanced training, unsubsidized employment, or a career in the military. Serves youth 14-21

In FY22 and the first quarter of FY23, DOES expanded this from serving 350 youth annually to serving 1,000 youth annually

$5.98 million
Marion Barry Youth Leadership Institute A year-round program to train District of Columbia youth in the concepts of leadership and self-development. The MBYLI training model emphasizes practical, hands-on experience and a holistic approach to developing leaders for the 21st century Serves youth 14-19, though some providers expand the age range as much as 12-24

DOES did not provide demographic data on participants in response to our request nor did the Council committee ask about it during the 2023 Performance Oversight process.

$1 million
Out-of-School Program Provides occupational skills training, career awareness counseling, work readiness modules, basic education, GED preparation, supported internship experiences, and vocational skills training. Training is currently provided in, but not limited to: retail services, hospitality, administrative assistance (MOS), information technology, culinary arts, and automotive Services Serves youth 16- 24 who are no longer attending secondary or post-secondary school.

DOES did not provide demographic data on participants in response to our request nor did the Council committee ask about it during the 2023 Performance Oversight process.

$11.6K
Pathways for Young Adults This program is designed to assist out-of-school and out-of-work District residents by combining occupational training, life skills development, and work readiness instructions to connect them to work successfully. The three areas of occupational training include allied health, administrative services and basic IT/admin. tech. Serves youth 18-24

DOES did not provide demographic data on participants in response to our request nor did the Council committee ask about it during the 2023 Performance Oversight process.

N/A
Grant Opportunities The purpose of the grants is to support innovative workforce development solutions for residents of the District of Columbia to increase their success rate of attaining and sustaining employment that forges a path to the middle class and further stimulates the District’s economy. DOES did not provide demographic data on participants in response to our request. $6.7 million in WIOA funding
East of the River Career Pathway Program Program to assist out-of-school youth with receiving occupational skills training, financial literacy training, and work readiness training in the following fields: information technology, construction, and entrepreneurship. Serves youth  18–24, in Wards 7 or 8, and all youth possess a high school diploma or equivalent.

In FY22 this program served 416 youth.

$1.24 million

Designing Programs to Address Youth Homelessness

If we are to give young people who are experiencing homelessness a fair shot and secure the employment opportunities they require, we need to ensure the workforce development programs we offer are adequately designed to address their specific challenges. In 2022, DC Action conducted focus groups with a representative population of youth experiencing homelessness. Participants identified the following challenges with current workforce development programming in the district and potential solutions, as demonstrated below.

Challenges Identified by Youth Experiencing Homelessness with DOES Programming

Solutions to Address Existing Gaps in Services

No access to transportation stipends to ensure youth can attend programs and worksites. Provide transportation stipends to ensure youth can attend worksites and workforce development programming.
Lack of access to childcare. Provide free quality child care.
No stipends to assist with securing interview and work attire. Provide stipends to purchase appropriate work and interview attire while enrolled in workforce development programming.
Placed in jobs where employers were not trauma informed, resulting in youth experiencing harassment and discrimination. Require employment sites to receive cultural competency, racial equity, LGBTQ+ inclusivity, and other related training before youth are placed at the worksite.
Lack of mental health supports to address trauma and triggers experienced during employment. DOES should create a partnership with DBH to provide mental health support on an as needed basis.
No access to enjoyable employment that results in a livable wage with benefits such as health care. Connection to employment that results in a livable wage with healthcare and other benefits.

Policy Solutions

Across the District, youth experiencing homelessness have a markedly high unemployment rate at 75%. Many of the same challenges that can prevent youth experiencing homelessness from finding a job can also prevent youth from completing a workforce development program: not just the lack of housing and a permanent address, but also little or no access to transportation, the internet, professional clothing, and a support network. The bad news is that access to basic goods and supports that many of us take for granted stand in the way of young people being able to escape poverty and homelessness. The good news is that we have the resources needed to help them access what they need. We just need the policy to do so.

There are myriad reasons workforce development may not work for potential participants. That’s particularly true for youth experiencing homelessness. Programs do not necessarily lead to jobs that will pay a livable wage, and young people experiencing homelessness generally can’t afford to sit in training sessions they aren’t being paid for. Even if youth make the tough decision to forgo weeks of pay in hopes of job development, they may not be welcomed by employers that don’t understand their history and be more likely to experience discrimination and harassment in the workplace.

Addressing this problem can take several forms, such as revising general workforce opportunities to provide mental health support and flexibility to youth experiencing homelessness; hiring youth who go through these programs for jobs in the DC government; encouraging local businesses to hire youth experiencing homelessness; and most importantly, connecting youth to jobs that pay living wages.

Outlined below are 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.

Policy Solution #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.

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.

DC youth homelessness provider Sasha Bruce YouthWorks is a former Department of Labor YouthBuild grant recipient, providing workforce development programming for youth experiencing homelessness with a budget of $1.2 million in federal funding. With $1.2 million in funding, Sasha Bruce was able to help youth obtain their GEDs along with skills training in construction and information technology, and receive employment placement. Throughout the entire course of the program, youth were provided with either stipends or an hourly wage. The grant was provided over a 40-month period, during which two cohorts of 30 youth were enrolled for approximately 18 months. The funding also provided Sasha Bruce with robust capacity to provide case management, counseling, and help accessing child care, housing, and mental health services.

Below are quotes for former youth experiencing homelessness who participated in Sasha Bruce’s YouthBuild program:

“We need more programs like this in the city to support our troubled youth. But what’s more important, is making sure programs like this stay around for the long haul. Every summer we see thousands of DC’s young people employed with the Summer Youth Employment Program and similar programs, but this only covers a small part of this time period and needs to be extended. They need the support all year long, programs that help those who have trouble helping themselves.”

– Donald Marlin (former Sasha Bruce Youthbuild Participant)

“I have been accepted to the Sasha Bruce Youth Build program, where I am working towards my GED and learning a trade in H-VAC/Plumbing. I have opened a savings account and have made “Outstanding Resident” for two months since I moved into the program. Now that I have a safe place to rest my head at night I have many more great plans for my future. I now anticipate finding gainful employment and moving into my own apartment when I graduate from the program.”

-Anonymous (former Sasha Bruce Youthbuild participant)

Policy Solution #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. 

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. In an employment first program, their employment specialists identify personal skills and strengths and prioritize job placement over training. In 2022, AimHire helped 136 participants obtain jobs with an average pay rate of $16.20 hourly, including participants under a DOES funded Jobs First grant, which Friendship Place spearheaded. Although $16.20 is only 10 cents above the minimum wage, assisting youth experiencing homelessness with raising their income from $0 to approximately $34,000 per year is a step in the right direction to mitigate the impacts of poverty.

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.

Friendship Place’s employment model includes a central employment hub where participants receive orientation and individualized interviews to assess their needs and barriers to employment. Through collaboration and partnership with existing youth homelessness providers, youth can be referred to the employment hub seamlessly.

Cost participation in this program model is approximately $3,000 per participant. To serve all youth experiencing homelessness who are unemployed (75%)  this will cost approximately $4.35 million serving 1,450 youth.

Possible Funding Streams to Support Policy Solutions

In order to support implementation of these policy solutions, we recommended the DC Council consider the following funding streams.

  • Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) Funding
    • Enacted in 2013, WIOA funds a comprehensive youth employment program for serving youth who face barriers to education, training, and employment such as housing insecurity. The federal legislation requires the District to spend 75% WIOA youth funding on workforce development programming targeted at youth who are not connected to school.
    • The Mayor’s FY24 budget allocates $6.4 million in WIOA funding to provide youth workforce development programming. According to the Department of Labor, DOES has historically underspent WIOA youth workforce development dollars and therefore we recommend, the DC Council require DOES to expend WIOA funding to meet the employment needs of youth experiencing homelessness.
  • American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding
    • ARPA provides urgent and targeted funding to the District to mitigate the coronavirus and provide workers and families the resources they need to survive the pandemic while the vaccine is distributed to every American. ARPA funds can be used specifically to respond to the negative economic impacts of the pandemic, which can be done through targeted workforce development opportunities for youth who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.
    • The District received $386,476,999 in ARPA funding. Funding is required to be obligated by December 31, 2024, so it is imperative that it is directed during the FY24 budget season and the District has until December 31, 2026 to fully expend their funds.
    • For sustainability purposes once the federal funding is exhausted, the District will need to dedicate  local, recurring funding to maintain a targeted workforce development program, unless policy makers want young people to fall back into poverty and homelessness.

In addition to funding both of the proposed policy solutions, we also need more robust data to monitor the progress of the District in improving the employment outcomes for youth experiencing homelessness. Specifically it is imperative for:

  • DOES to collect housing status data of participants that utilize their youth employment programs. This is important to gauge how successful DOES is in meeting the needs of youth experiencing homelessness as we work as a collective to improve their employment outcomes.
  • DOES to provide a report on the expenditures of $4.5 million in WIOA funding for youth programs to date. This is necessary to ensure we are holding DOES accountable and to ensure DOES is meeting the necessary requirements, specifically because the  agency is already in receipt of the funding. A detailed report should include:
    • How 75% of funding has been allocated to support the workforce development needs of youth who are disconnected from school.
    • How each awardee of WIOA funding meets the 14 program elements that are required to be made available to youth participants

Conclusion

The District is simply not meeting the employment needs of youth experiencing homelessness with the current infrastructure that is in place at DOES. Not only do youth experiencing homelessness need access to long-term employment with a livable wage but desperately need employment programs that also provide wraparound services as they navigate their way out of homelessness into stability. DOES does not provide that. Investing in the creation of a targeted workforce development program that meets the stated unique needs of youth experiencing homelessness would enable young people to gain financial independence and in turn boosting the economic stability of the District as a whole.

  1. a footnote in the 2021 Youth Counts that for the 151 parenting youth their (142) households had 163 kids. Since the DHS “number served” is roughly double the YouthCounts number, we can estimate about 320 kids in the youth-headed households are connected to the 300 parenting youth