Testimony of Rachel White, Senior Youth Policy Analyst, before the Committee of the Whole

May 3, 2024
Testimony
Person Testifying: Rachel White
Title: Senior Youth Policy Analyst, DC Action
Testimony Heard By: Committee of the Whole
Type of Hearing: Budget Hearing

Good morning Chairman Mendelson and members of the Committee of the Whole. I’m Rachel White, Senior Youth Policy Analyst at 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 ages 18-24 and youth-serving organizations in the District of Columbia for policies, funding, and programs that expand access to comprehensive support and services youth experiencing homelessness need to successfully transition into stable and productive adulthood. 

I’m here to talk with you today about the necessity for a thoughtful, thorough plan to address and end youth homelessness in the District and the need to sufficiently fund and honor the contracts of youth homelessness service providers, with the ultimate goal of better serving the young people in our community who lack safety and stability in their lives. 

The Youth Economic Justice and Housing Coalition has spent the past nine months conducting research to better understand the root causes of significant increases in youth homelessness in the District, the true scope of the problem, what systems are in place to serve young people, and to what extent these systems are effective. What we’ve found, unsurprisingly, is that the data on youth homelessness, much like the system itself, is fragmented, fractured, and extremely confusing. It’s nearly impossible to solve a problem when you have no idea how big the problem is or what approaches to solving it have or haven’t worked so far. This is why we need the District to commit to commissioning an updated strategic plan to end youth homelessness. The Interagency Council on Homelessness should be provided funding to do deep analysis of the youth system so that funding can be maximized to disrupt the pipeline of young people experiencing chronic homelessness as adults.

We know there are dozens of excellent community-based organizations, staffed by dedicated employees, that are focused on helping young people obtain stability and plan for a healthy future. But these organizations’ ability to provide accessible, seamless, and comprehensive services for young people is severely limited by the lack of adequate funding and timely payments from District government, erratic termination of grant agreements, the failure of DC to honor contracts and comply with the Nonprofit Fair Compensation Act, and DC’s minimizing of the issue of youth homelessness. Although youth homelessness has increased by approximately 50% since 2017, the District has effectively flat funded the youth homelessness system in recent years. It’s no wonder our nonprofit service providers and youth feel so constantly undervalued by the District. 

By the time a young person experiencing homelessness gets to the point of asking strangers for help, they have already gone through it. They are typically already traumatized, often fleeing from abusive and dangerous situations, and frequently disconnected from school and support services. Instead of providing them with easy access to the range of services they need, our system makes them jump through hoops to move into safe, culturally appropriate shelter that meets their needs, be connected with caseworkers to speak their language, and access regular and acute mental health care. 

We urge the council to mandate and fund an update to the Solid Foundations strategic plan initially released in 2017 or something comparable. We estimate this need may cost $300,000 for two employees to convene a working group. We owe it to our young people to have a real plan for how to support them if they find themselves in unsafe, unstable situations, often through no fault of their own, and are looking to us to provide not only refuge but also supportive services that will enable them to chart a path toward independence and healthy adulthood.