Testimony of Rachel White, Senior Youth Policy Analyst, before the Committee on Executive Administration and Labor

February 21, 2024
Testimony
Person Testifying: Rachel White
Title: Senior Youth Policy Analyst, DC Action
Testimony Heard By: Committee on Executive Administration and Labor
Type of Hearing: Oversight Hearing

Good morning Committee Chair Bonds and members of the Committee on Executive Administration and Labor. 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. I am testifying today to provide feedback on the Department of Employment Services (DOES) and its role in facilitating workforce development and employment solutions for youth experiencing homelessness in the District.

Through the DC Youth Economic Justice and Housing Coalition we convene, we advocate with youth and youth-serving organizations for policies and funding that can expand access to comprehensive youth services to help disconnected young people successfully transition into stable and productive adulthood.  

One way to support that transition – and to prevent youth who face housing instability from entering the District’s adult homelessness system – is by providing teens and young adults with workforce development opportunities created to meet their unique needs. Good paying jobs that our youth can take pride in refocuses their time and efforts on positive economic and social activities, making them less likely to engage in  risky behaviors and less likely to reexperience homelessness later in life. Having a job also enables individuals to contribute income to their families, which can generate more personal support, stronger positive relationships, enhanced self-esteem, and improved mental health.  

While we understand DOES provides a variety of workforce development programs, none of the existing offerings are appropriate for a segment of the population that could stand to benefit the most from a supportive job earning a living wage: youth experiencing homelessness. 

In a 2022 survey conducted by the DC Youth Economic Justice and Housing Coalition, unhoused youth reported the barriers and challenges they face with accessing and remaining engaged with current workforce development programs in the District and how these programs are not meeting their needs. These included:

  • Challenges with transportation to and from the program or work site
  • Programs lacked childcare availability (for young parents)
  • Programs did not have adequate attire and laundry facilities
  • Programs did not provide adequate pay or stipend to meet basic needs
  • Difficulty balancing program/work commitments with school
  • Experienced discrimination or harassment
  • Inadequate mental health support to deal with the trauma of homelessness 
  • Lack of mentors or job coaches  
  • Difficulty obtaining or providing documentation needed to participate in program such as proof of residency, drivers license, and social security card. 
  • Program did not result in a job with a livable wage

 

Investing in the creation of a targeted workforce development program that meets the unique needs of youth experiencing homelessness, informed by youth and homeless service providers, would enable young people to gain financial independence and stability. The DOES Pathways for Young Adults Program model has some of these elements but not enough. And American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) dollars previously funded a successful pilot program at Sasha Bruce Youthwork but has since expired.    

 

An ideal workforce development program model for youth experiencing homelessness will include mental health counselors, either living wage stipends or an hourly rate the entire time they are participating in the program, transportation support, and a broader range of career fields that are driven by youth interest and input. Additionally, the program should include culturally competent case management services to help the participants navigate childcare, if needed, the homeless services system, apartment searches, and workforce attire, obtaining GEDs or other educational credentials, and more. Finally, we need DOES to be more proactive in outreach to disconnected youth and to youth-serving organizations to promote job training and placement opportunities.    

 

We know that Black youth and LGBTQ youth – and Black and brown transgender youth in particular – disproportionately make up majority of youth experiencing homelessness. The intersectional traumas of identity-based discrimination and barriers to employment, coupled with the traumas of housing insecurity make it far more difficult for this vulnerable population to pursue and sustain gainful employment. That is why we urgently need DOES and the Workforce Investment Council (WIC) to focus on workforce development outcomes of youth experiencing homelessness.

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.