Sasha Bruce

Councilmembers Jim Graham, Mary Cheh and Kenyan McDuffie presented today legislation to end youth homelessness in the District. The ground-breaking bill responds to the calls of youth advocates and nonprofit service providers for effective legislation.

The bill would take certain steps immediately, and then mandate a comprehensive study of youth homelessness that would be designed to identify the specific further steps that are needed to eradicate youth homelessness in the District by 2020. The bill would provide $10 million in new funding each year to implement the study’s recommendations.

First, to address an immediate need, the bill would require DC’s Interagency Council on Homelessness to clarify in its Winter Plan each year that the District’s right to hypothermia shelter extends to unaccompanied minors, ensuring that “no homeless unaccompanied minor is in danger of hypothermia regardless of resources.”

Second, the bill would require the District to conduct a youth count designed to determine the scope of the District’s youth homelessness problem, establish a street outreach program designed to identify youth who are in need of shelter and other services, and establish a coordinated system for entering homeless youth into the District’s network of shelters, transitional housing and services.

Third, the bill would provide that the District’s Continuum of Care for homeless families and youth must include services to meet the developmental needs of children and youth, including services that are “comprehensive, age-appropriate, culturally-competent, and language-accessible.”

No later than 300 days after the effective date of this legislation, DC’s Interagency Council on Homelessness, working jointly with organizations providing services to homeless youth as well as homeless or formerly homeless youth and their advocates, must prepare and submit to the DC Council a comprehensive Plan to End Youth Homelessness. This Plan must include a community-wide needs assessment, an analysis of strategies that have been successful in reducing youth homelessness, and specific recommendations for eradicating youth homelessness in the District by 2020. The Plan must also identify any new legislation that is necessary to implement its recommendations and make recommendations for funding its initiatives that will not reduce funding for other social programs in the District. The Interagency Council must then incorporate its Plan to End Youth Homelessness into its overall strategic plans going forward.

This legislation responds to the calls of a number of DC-area nonprofits with decades of experience caring for homeless youth in the District. In October 2013, the DC Alliance for Youth Advocates and six other organizations released “A Bold Strategy to End Youth Homelessness in the District of Columbia,” which called upon the District to make a new commitment to end youth homelessness by taking certain concrete steps immediately and then “allow[ing] data collection to inform [a] commitment to the full realization of a five-year strategy”:

“In a word, homeless youth need our commitment: The District should finally stand with young people and make a commitment to strategies that will end their homelessness and allow them to thrive—not just scrape by in a closed-door system without supports, safety, and recognition.”

The District has more than 12,000 disconnected youth, more than 3000 of which are homeless. Considering both the direct taxpayer costs (i.e., increased costs of healthcare, criminal justice, welfare, social services) and the indirect “spillover costs” (lost earnings/productivity, extra civic services, education costs), meeting the housing needs of homeless youth in the DC for one year could save the District a total tax and social burden of $50 million.