Photo of a panel discussion. On May 22, the D.C. Interagency Council on Homelessness released their strategic plan to end youth homelessness in the District. A panel of affected community members was organized to highlight the importance of addressing the specific needs and experiences of D.C. youth. Anton Johnson (Sasha Bruce got independent living), Briana Hammond (previously went to shelters), Ramina Davidson (case management and housing coordinator).
Justine Coleman

As a part of the District’s fight to end youth homelessness by 2022, D.C. officials released the city’s first-ever strategic plan to decrease youth homelessness on May 22.

The D.C. Interagency Council on Homelessness created the plan, which they call Solid Foundations, after collecting two years of data from the D.C. Homeless Youth Census. City government implemented the youth-specific count after it became apparent that children and young adults do not frequently access traditional service providers and shelters — thus going uncounted in the traditional homeless census conducted every January. 

By expanding prevention and outreach efforts, increasing housing options and providing youth with mentors, the ICH plans to work toward ensuring people up to 24-years-old have roofs over their heads and a strong support system, according to the plan. 

The ICH and Community Foundation for the National Capital Region co-hosted the launch of the strategic plan last week at the Hill Center with a panel including representatives from D.C. government, support agencies and youth who experienced homelessness.

Having a data-driven plan is important to help shape what kinds of programs the District needs and how much those programs would cost, according to D.C. ICH Director Kristy Greenwalt. 

The percentage of homeless youth experiencing chronic homelessness — meaning with a disability and for at least a year or four times in the past three years — tripled from 8 to 24 percent, according to the 2016 census. Greenwalt said this could have resulted from having limited years of data.

She added that the plan includes new programs specific to youth, such as stabilization services to help young homeless people return to their families and for the family to receive services as a unit.

“If you don’t address the root causes of the problems and address the family conflict, there’s a higher likelihood that they will keep running,” Greenwalt said in an interview.

Ramina Davidson, the case management and housing coordinator at HIPS, said the plan takes into account subgroups that are overrepresented in the census including the LGBTQ communities. Seventeen percent of homeless youth identify as gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, queer or questioning, while 7 percent identify as transgender. Forty-three percent of homeless youth identified as LGBTQ in the 2015 census. 

“It’s clear that a lot of LGBT youth have experienced a lot of trauma either in their families or on the street,” Davidson said during a panel discussion at the release event. 

Briana Hammond, another panelist, began living in shelters when she was 8-years-old. Now, Hammond, 20, lives in independent housing through the Latin American Youth Center LGBTQ program. 

Hammond said the city’s next steps to fight homelessness should include boosting the affordable housing options for young adults to help support youth who are born into homelessness, who want to learn to live on their own.  

“One thing that a lot of people don’t understand is that we do not want to be in this situation forever,” Hammond said in an interview.  “We don’t want to go into adult life homeless or in programs that we’re still using as crutches.”