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

February 23, 2023
Person Testifying: Rachel White
Title: Senior Youth Policy Analyst, DC Action
Testimony Heard By: DC Council Committee on Housing
Type of Hearing: Performance Oversight Hearing

February 23, 2023

Good morning, Committee Chair White, and members of the Committee on Housing. Thank you for the opportunity to address the Council today with respect to the performance of the Interagency Council on Homelessness and the Department of Human Services.

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.

Through our Youth Economic Justice and Housing Coalition we advocate 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 disconnected and youth experiencing homelessness need to successfully transition into stable and productive adulthood. We are also the home of DC KIDS COUNT, an online resource that tracks key indicators of child and youth well-being.

One of our priorities is dismantling the pipeline from youth homelessness to chronic adult homelessness, which can only be done through intentional investments into positive youth development systems throughout the District. By investing early and helping young people find stability, we are cutting off a primary contributor to chronic adult and family homelessness. For every day a young person waits for housing, they are 2% more likely to re-experience homelessness later in life. This is a cumulative statistic. Two days of waiting is equal to 4% more likely to re-experience homelessness as an adult.

One way to obstruct the youth to adult homelessness trajectory is by providing youth in the District a youth homelessness sector that is fully funded, a pathway to economic freedom in the form of workforce development opportunities that result in long-term employment with a livable wage and programs that meet their unique needs.

While the Department of Human Services received an additional $1.2 million to increase provider contracts during  fiscal year 2023, it does not fully meet the funding needs of youth homelessness providers and exacerbates the existing gaps in service delivery for youth experiencing homelessness. Providers are seeking an increase in contracts to by at least 9% to account for inflation and additional funding to hire and retain frontline staff- requests you will hear more about in upcoming budget hearings.

A second issue related to funding pertains to the lack of parity in youth homelessness funding between the Department of Human Services and The Community Partnership. Both entities fund the youth homelessness sector, however TCP contracts did not increase by 5% this fiscal year, there were significant delays in fulfillment of TCP contracts. We are asking for greater transparency between the entities as we work to create parity. Lastly with respect to funding, we have not been granted access to the results of the youth homelessness cost analysis that was requested by Department of Human Services.

I will now focus my testimony on the continued need for targeted workforce development programming for youth experiencing homelessness. While we advocate for job opportunities, we must acknowledge that youth experiencing homelessness often face unique challenges as they try to secure adequate employment. Their connections to school are often tenuous. With limited access to basic needs like showers, hygiene products, and interview attire, it is often difficult to take the steps necessary to secure and keep a job, let alone managing the day-to-day trauma of being homeless. When they do get a job, the positions often pay minimum wage, which is not a living wage for anyone in the District of Columbia. Given the challenges youth face, it’s important for government agencies and service providers to create targeted programs and interventions that meet the unique needs of this population of youth.

Prior to the pandemic, maintaining employment for youth experiencing homelessness was already a challenge. Based on Youth Count data, 75% of parenting youth and 69% of non-parenting youth had no form of cash income.

As we focus our discussion around creating equitable outcomes for all residents, it is also important to note that finding employment for transgender youth is even harder. In a 2015 survey by the National Center for Transgender Equality, one-fourth of DC residents who are transgender and applied for or held a job in the prior year reported being fired, denied a promotion, or not being hired for a job they applied for because of their gender identity or expression during the prior year.  Another quarter reported other forms of mistreatment based on their gender identity or expression during that year, such as being forced to use a restroom that did not match their gender identity, being told to present in the wrong gender in order to keep their job, or having a boss or coworker share private information about their transgender status with others without their permission. While this treatment is unacceptable for any DC resident, it poses particular challenges for youth already experiencing the trauma of homelessness.

DHS has responded to the disparities in employment for youth experiencing homelessness who identify as LGBTQ+ by issuing an RFP soliciting detailed proposals to establish a Wraparound Workforce Development Program for Transgender, Nonbinary, and Gender-Nonconforming District youth, ages 18-24 who are experiencing or at risk of experiencing homelessness. We we would like to discuss the option of expanding the scope and capacity of programs to specifically meet the needs of all youth experiencing homelessness throughout the District. We have a specific workforce development model in mind that we will detail during budget hearings. We are asking for the committee’s support to coordinate with the Labor committee and the Department of Employment Services to secure funding for targeted workforce development that meets the needs of all youth experiencing homelessness.

We encourage DHS and ICH to:

  • Continue to prioritize serving unaccompanied homeless youth in the District through implementation of Solid Foundations and by continuing to convene the ICH Youth Advisory Board to ensure policies and practices are informed by the impacted community.
  • Ensure the next iteration of Solid Foundations focuses on workforce development programs that center the unique needs of unaccompanied homeless youth and result in gainful employment.
  • Engage in strategic outreach for opportunity youth experiencing homelessness to ensure they are made aware of employment and educational services available through DHS.
  • Ensure the youth homelessness sector is fully funded to meet the unique needs 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.

Rachel White, JD

Senior Youth Policy Analyst, DC Action