Testimony of Kimberly Perry, Executive Director, before the Committee on Housing

February 29, 2024
Testimony
Person Testifying: Kimberly Perry
Title: Executive Director, DC Action
Testimony Heard By: Committee on Housing
Type of Hearing: Oversight Hearing

Good morning Chairman White and staff of the Committee on Housing. I’m Kimberly Perry, Executive Director of DC Action. We use research, data, collective action, and a racial equity lens to break down barriers that stand in the way of all kids reaching their full potential. We are also the home of DC KIDS COUNT, an online resource that tracks key indicators of child and youth well-being. 

DC Action is home to four coalitions, including the Youth Economic Justice and Housing Coalition, which advocates 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 youth experiencing homelessness need to successfully transition into stable and productive adulthood. 

Together with our coalition partners, we have advocated for data- and accountability-driven solutions to end youth homelessness and disrupt the pipeline of young people entering into the District’s adult homeless system. Nearly a decade ago, in fall 2015, the District conducted its first annual Homeless Youth Census (HYC) as a provision of the End Youth Homelessness Act of 2014. Data gathered from the first HYC demonstrated the need for a coordinated plan to address the unique needs of youth ages 16 to 24 experiencing homelessness. This led to the 2017 creation of Solid Foundations DC by the ICH as the District’s first-ever data-driven plan focused on the needs of unaccompanied youth

Solid Foundations was intended to serve as a roadmap for building an effective system of care for unaccompanied youth experiencing or at risk of homelessness with a goal of ending youth homelessness by 2022. The District has not met this goal. Oversight answers from the Department of Human Services confirm what our coalition partners have been observing through their work, that there is actually an increase in youth homelessness. The 2023 Point In Time count found a 3% increase. The 2022 Homeless Youth Count found a 15% increase in homeless youth between 2021 and 2022. Yet we know these are undercounts due to the many ways youth experience housing insecurity.  

Despite being further away from ending youth homelessness today than we were at the release of Solid Foundations in 2017, we have been told by the ICH that there are no plans to assess and update the critical strategic plan. By contrast, in 2015, the ICH released Homeward DC, a strategic plan to end homelessness focused on single adults and families. And in 2021, they released Homeward DC 2.0, which includes a data-driven system analysis of the previous plan and includes updated strategies. The Homeless Services Reform Act (L22-65), requires the ICH to revise the adult and family strategic plan every five years (D.C. Official Code § 4–752.02). There is not, however, a similar requirement for our youth. It is not sufficient for ICH to squeeze in a few sentences regarding youth experiencing homelessness into Homeward DC, or combine reporting numbers in oversight testimony. Because youth homelessness is a unique and complex experience that requires a completely separate system of supports, a separate strategic plan is necessary. 

Without the leadership of the ICH on this matter to independently initiate updates, we strongly recommend the DC Council pass and fund legislation to mandate that ICH develop updated strategic plans on youth homelessness at least every five years to mirror plan requirements for unhoused families and singles. We also recommend that subsequent Solid Foundation strategic plans:

  1. Be rooted in measurable goals and enforceable deadlines
  2. Prioritize addressing system efficiencies, eliminating red tape, and reducing common challenges in the youth system
  3. Outline specific solutions ICH will implement around housing, comprehensive economic supports, and government agency collaboration
  4. Solicit feedback from youth and youth-serving organizations.

Finally, we encourage the ICH to conduct biennial progress reports to measure progress in real time toward eliminating youth homelessness. 

During today’s hearing, I hope you will inquire about the specific metrics and challenges surrounding our youth homelessness system with both Director Silas and Director Zeilinger. Thank you, and I would be happy to answer any questions.