The DC Council seems again poised to amend the Homeless Services Reform Act — the basis for much of what the District does to address homelessness in our community.
The new amendment was jointly introduced by Councilmember Jim Graham, Chairman of the Human Services Committee, and Councilmember Michael Brown, Chairman of the Housing and Workforce Development.
It’s got nine cosponsors — all sitting Councilmembers who had an opportunity to sign on except Jack Evans and David Catania.
Last month’s hearing on the amendment was a virtual love fest. All but two witnesses supported it as-is.
And those two had reservations about just one part — seats on the Interagency Council on Homelessness designated specifically for represents of organizations that serve homeless youth and homeless families. Not, I think, a make-or-break.
Concern about them dominated the hearing. And it’s surely a legitimate concern.
As a majority of witnesses emphasized, homeless youth are distinctively different from homeless adults.
Many become homeless for different reasons, e.g., because they need to escape abusive situations, because their parents throw them out, because they “age out” of the foster care system or get released from detention without provisions for housing.
They’re still developing emotionally and cognitively — more vulnerable, but perhaps more open to help than people who’ve endured years of hardship, humiliation, downright hostility, etc.
They’re more likely to be in unstable housing situations — couch surfing in homes of friends and relatives — than in shelters or on the streets. And, for that reason, we’ve got no idea of how many there are.
The Graham-Brown amendment aims to give the DC Council a better fix on the problems and solutions — not only for homeless youth, but for other subgroups that the ICH strategy and homeless counts already distinguish.
It requires ICH to develop a new five-year strategic plan, plus annual plans for implementing it. The Council is supposed to get these as part of the administration’s annual budget proposals.
Many specific parts to the plan. Some seem to me very challenging — for example:
- A gap analysis of the shelter, housing and support needs of discrete homeless populations, along with numerical goals for housing production or rental assistance for each.
- A strategy for working collaboratively with surrounding jurisdictions.
- An account of trends in federal homelessness funding, plus an analysis of how local agencies and nonprofits can get more federal funds and, as if that weren’t enough, how said funds would be “utilized and prioritized.”
Heavy lifting, I think. But something along these lines could be feasible if all the senior District officials now nominally on the ICH actively participated — and committed staff support.
That in itself could be a heavy lift for agencies already struggling with budget-driven staff shortages.
I’ve remarked before that the DC Council seems better at making good policies than at providing the oversight and resources needed to make them work.
I fear that the Graham-Brown amendment may prove a case in point. But I hope it passes anyway.
We have nonprofits in the District that specialize in services for homeless youth. But our government needs to make serious investments in helping these young people out on their own get connected to caring adults and onto a pathway out of poverty.
Clearly also needs to do a much better job of making sure there aren’t so many homeless youth to begin with.
Can’t do that until it knows where it is, where it should be going and what it must do to get there. And the rest of us could use better data and benchmarks too.