Testimony of Executive Director Kimberly Perry before the Committee on Human Services

November 10, 2021
Person Testifying: Kimberly Perry
Title: Executive Director, DC Action
Testimony Heard By: Before the Committee on Human Services
Type of Hearing: Performance Oversight Hearing

Good morning, Council member Nadeau and members of the DC Council. Thank you for the opportunity to address the Human Services Committee today. I am Kimberly Perry, Executive Director of DC Action. 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. Our collaborative advocacy initiatives bring the power of young people and all residents to raise their voices to create change. Through one of our signature coalitions, the Youth Economic Justice and Housing Coalition, we organize youth with lived experience and the community organizations they rely on. We are also the home of DC KIDS COUNT, an online resource that tracks key indicators of child and youth well-being.

I first want to thank you and the committee for recent FY22 system investments, restoring modest cuts that were proposed, funding extended transitional housing at a more realistic cost per bed, and adding funding for beds for young people who have aged out of the youth system but still need the support of Permanent Supportive Housing in the adult system to avoid losing the progress they’ve made.

And, an appreciation to Director Zeillinger and her team at DHS for moving forward with an investment in a one-time cost analysis so in the future we have a shared understanding of what it costs to provide quality youth outreach, shelter and housing services.

My primary purpose with today’s testimony is to inquire about the status of a “Trauma Team” DHS leadership noted this summer that would be put into place to meet the needs of the youth homeless population.

In our budget requests earlier this year, members of the Youth Homeless coalition expressed a great and urgent need for age and circumstance appropriate behavioral health services for youth experiencing housing insecurity.

A lack of accessible, youth friendly and culturally competent mental health services is a major barrier to long term stability for our youth. After 2 years of research, we propose the development of a mobile behavioral health team. Staffed by 3.5 clinicians and a full time psychiatrist (at minimum), this unit would rotate between homeless youth provider sites to provide medication management and initial mental health services on a weekly basis. If properly aligned with the Department of Behavioral Health, this program will facilitate pathways into the Department of Behavioral Health’s funded community services that would then serve youth long term via CSA’s.

We have to meet youth where they are, and in this case, that means literally bringing initial clinical services to where they physically congregate. This investment has the potential to dramatically increase youth access to trauma/ behavioral health services, substance abuse treatment, medication management, and long term mental health supports. All of which will decrease the likelihood of sustained or future homelessness.

I ask the committee to please follow-up on this inquiry and inform service providers and the general public about the status of setting up these new services along with a timeline for full implementation.

Finally, as the new budget year began on October 1 with millions of dollars in federal relief, we would like greater transparency about the plan for spending those dollars. This specificity will allow us to better understand what services, programs, or support might be at risk when the federal relief runs out. In essence, what does this fiscal cliff look like for programs and services that support our most vulnerable young people. For example, are the new permanent supportive housing beds in the adult system for young people who age out of the youth system included in the 45 million dollar increase for single adult permanent supportive housing?  And, if so, is that covered by local funds, or some part of the one-time ARPA funds? A similar inquiry applies for the rapid re-housing funding. Director Zeilinger talked about the increase in families receiving these vouchers during the pandemic and the exit pathways for families, but once one-time federal funding runs out, will there be local funds to continue vouchers for those families whose FRSP eligibility hasn’t yet expired, as well as for vouchers for newly homeless families who fall through the cracks of STAY DC, ERAP, and other homelessness prevention programs?