D.C. officials are launching a plan focused on youth homelessness in the District, a supplement to Mayor Muriel Bowser’s continuing push to overhaul the city’s system for assisting the homeless.
The Solid Foundations D.C. plan, developed by the D.C. Interagency Council on Homelessness (ICH) over the past year and a half, identifies changes that could be made to the current homeless services system to better serve unaccompanied youth, under the age of 25, who experience housing instability or homelessness in D.C.
The plan is an accompaniment of Homeward D.C., the city’s data-driven initiative used to guide the transformation of the District’s homeless services system into an effective crisis response system intended to make homelessness rare, brief and nonrecurring.
“When we launched the Homeward D.C. plan two years ago, it was actually intentional that we did not include unaccompanied youth,” said ICH Director Kristy Greenwalt. “At the time, we didn’t really have the data that we needed to make this a really data-driven strategy for youth.”
She said the city took time to understand the unaccompanied minor homeless subpopulation, but did not ignore it, providing services to homeless youth as they developed the comprehensive five-year plan.
“Youth homelessness is too urgent to wait for perfect data,” Greenwalt said.
The Homeward D.C. plan, which was rolled out during Bowser’s first 100 days in office, identified over 40 strategies to target services to prevent and address homelessness in the city, focused on the resources needed to serve families and single adults.
Homeward D.C., attributed as the source of the city’s 10.5 percent reduction in overall homelessness according to the recently released annual Point-in-Time count, completed its first full year of implementation in October.
The 2017 Point-in-Time count identified 243 youth under the age of 25 at various stages of homelessness including unsheltered, in transitional housing and totally unsheltered.
Officials say youth who experience homelessness are more likely to not finish high school, be victims of crime such as robbery, rape and physical and sexual assault, and to be perpetrators of illegal acts for survival including stealing, dealing drugs and breaking into cars and abandoned buildings.
The Solid Foundations D.C. plan identifies 40 strategies under the umbrella of seven objectives with the goal of ending youth homelessness in the city by 2022.
The objectives focus on improving communication between city agencies and their nonprofit providers to develop a consistent protocol for care and referral for services, increasing the capacity of service providers and offering wraparound services to youth who are identified as homeless.
The plan calls for the development of individual housing plans before a child ages out of a city agency or system such as foster care and the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services, as well as for providing more transitional housing and prevention services.
However, Joseph Garilovich, co-chair of the ICH Subcommittee on Youth, said that in order for the plan to be effective, it must be fully funded.
In a council budget oversight hearing in early May, Garilovich said the currently proposed budget does not meet the funding goals of the plan in its first year.
Greenwalt counted that the plan could still be effective and it would take time to properly scale service capacity.
“We could have all the money in the world, but if we don’t enough service providers, as we’ve seen with some of our adult programming,” Greenwalt said. “We need to make sure we are scaling in a smart way. We need to make sure we can use the money that we ask for.”
The upcoming budget also calls for an additional $2.4 million investment in the Department of Human Services’ youth programming. The investment will be used for an expansion in the number of emergency bed units and transitional and rapid rehousing units.
“Our goal is to help everyone get to a place of stability with a level of service that is tailored to their specific needs,” said department Director Laura Zeilinger. “When we see that need is greater, we’ve been able to shift resources where the need is greater.”