Are Homeless Kids In D.c. Out In The Cold? (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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Are Homeless Kids In D.C. Out In The Cold?

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:09
Welcome to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir and today our theme is House and Home. They, of course, say there's no place like home, but today's show is going to take us to all different kinds of homes all over the place.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:29
We'll visit a 19th century cabin, which some hikers have moved 100 miles and started to rebuild.

MR. JOHN CORWITH

00:00:36
Here was a structure that had stood since 1878 and the woman was just going to tear it down.

SHEIR

00:00:40
We'll look at Maryland's plans to create a better plan for wild plants and animals.

MR. JOHN F. WILSON

00:00:44
Fifty years from now, I think folks are going to say, they really did a good thing in protecting these areas.

SHEIR

00:00:51
And in a little twist on the theme, we'll tip our hats on this 40th anniversary of Home Rule, which gave D.C. the right to elect its own political leaders.

MR. NELSON RIMENSNYDER

00:00:59
Whip counts were done, and the Senate version was not going to pass.

SHEIR

00:01:15
Before we get to all that, though, we're talking about House and Home, right? But what happens when…

SHEIR

00:01:22
…for the time being, anyway, you don't have either one?

SHEIR

00:01:26
Can you talk about where we are right now?

LAMAR

00:01:28
Currently we are at Sasha Bruce Home on 8th Street, Maryland Avenue.

SHEIR

00:01:34
That's 8th Street and Maryland Avenue Northeast. And the Sasha Bruce Home or House is D.C.'s only short-term shelter for young people, ages 11 to 17. Young people like Lamar, a sophomore at Anacostia High School.

LAMAR

00:01:47
What first brought me here was, like, I'm going through substance abuse, with drugs. And my father had kicked me out on the street. So I was living on the street for a full 24 hours. And then I had to go to school the next day. So I said, I can't live on the street and still try to go to school, so I'm going to go to the 6th district, the police department station and see what they can do and see if they can take me to PIW or something like that. And they took me here that same day, to Sasha Bruce.

SHEIR

00:02:14
Tragic as his story may be, Lamar is actually one of the lucky ones. Between February and May of this year, Sasha Bruce House had to turn away at least 150 unaccompanied minor children due to lack of space.

MR. JIM BECK

00:02:27
A year ago at this time, we had 16 beds, through this program and another program that no longer exists, specifically for homeless runaway kids.

SHEIR

00:02:38
Jim Beck is the development director for Sasha Bruce Youthwork, which provides all sorts of support services for D.C.'s youth, including of course the Sasha Bruce House.

BECK

00:02:45
And now we have five. And the city doesn't pay for any of those.

SHEIR

00:02:49
Instead, the federal government pays for those five beds.

BECK

00:02:52
The city historically, through Child and Family Services and the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services, had appreciated the need for prevention of kids getting in the system. And so they had made available funds specifically for shelter for unaccompanied youth. But they changed that. And those no longer exist, just in the past year. And so the city doesn't pay for any emergency shelter for unaccompanied homeless youth.

SHEIR

00:03:19
But that may soon change. I recently met with David A. Berns.

MR. DAVID A. BERNS

00:03:23
David Berns, director of the Department of Human Services.

SHEIR

00:03:26
That's the agency that oversees the provision of homeless services in D.C. And he says the city has agreed to fund a new emergency shelter with six beds. It'll give unaccompanied minors in the District a place to stay.

BERNS

00:03:37
For as much as for two weeks, with parental or court approval to allow the kids to stay there while we were working on the other issues.

SHEIR

00:03:46
You know, like behavioral problems, substance abuse.

BERNS

00:03:49
And so if the average is a one-week stay, that provides a place for up to 300 children on an emergency basis throughout the year.

SHEIR

00:04:04
But there's one time of year when emergency shelter is especially in demand. And it's pretty much upon us.

BERNS

00:04:11
In the city of Washington, D.C., we have what's called a Right to Shelter on hypothermia nights, that's the nights when the temperature, including the wind-chill index, is 32 degrees or lower.

SHEIR

00:04:25
So this mayor-appointed group called the Interagency Council on Homelessness has this annual Winter Plan.

BERNS

00:04:31
The Winter Plan is a description of all of the different processes that we use, like where are the shelters, what's the capacity that we need, how many people are likely to show up during this period of time, and do we have adequate resources to meet that need?

SHEIR

00:04:50
And you say that under this year's plan there are adequate resources?

BERNS

00:04:55
Yes.

SHEIR

00:04:56
And, in a way, no. See, here's the thing about the Winter Plan. Sasha Bruce had to turn away dozens of kids this past winter, right? That's because, as David Berns admits…

BERNS

00:05:07
What we've discovered in our conversations this year is that the city has never completely addressed or had a definitive plan dealing with those with unaccompanied minors -- those that are under age 18 -- under the Winter Plan.

SHEIR

00:05:24
Just this week, the Interagency Council on Homelessness met about the Winter Plan. The Council agreed to site Sasha Bruce as the first line of defense for unaccompanied minors, unless there's suspicion of abuse and neglect, in which case the D.C. Child and Family Services Agency would step in. But at this same meeting, when the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless proposed new language be written in to the plan -- language that would explicitly require the District to house unaccompanied youth -- it was not approved.

MR. JIM GRAHAM

00:05:52
There are two groups of people that I think should not be in our shelters, the very old, and the very young.

SHEIR

00:05:57
Council member Jim Graham represents Ward 1, and chairs the Committee on Human Services. And he says in terms of homeless people in D.C. this winter…

GRAHAM

00:06:05
We're projecting a 10 percent increase in families, a 10 percent increase in individuals. And we have an enormous problem when it comes to unaccompanied youth. And you put all of that together, and we're going to be facing, I think, a crisis situation in the District in terms of homelessness.

SHEIR

00:06:21
So naturally, he strongly approves of those six new beds. As, of course, does Jim Beck at Sasha Bruce House. But, he echoes Graham's sentiments when he says…

BECK

00:06:30
It's certainly not enough. You need a comprehensive plan to help young people develop. It's not just shelter. You have to have lots of other supports to make sure they become stable, and families are healthy.

SHEIR

00:06:42
Which is why Sasha Bruce House also offers counseling, group sessions and case management. All these things, Beck says, cannot only help combat youth homelessness, but adult homelessness, too.

BECK

00:06:52
50 percent of all adult homeless individuals report having been homeless as youth. So this is why it's so important to intervene quickly for kids that are living on the street, or even are at risk of being put out on the street because we could prevent future adult homelessness.

SHEIR

00:07:12
For Anacostia High School sophomore Lamar, he's hoping this will be the last time he's homeless.

LAMAR

00:07:18
Soon as I walk out the door I see me rebuilding my relationship with my father, I see me rebuilding my relationship with my brothers, I see me rebuilding my relationship with my sisters, and I see myself just progressing. And just, like, experiencing growth. I want to be with my family. I just want to go home.
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