D.C. Council Taking Steps for Homeless Youth

Advocates, DHS representatives say bill is a good starting point for LGBT youth, but needs revisions

Members of the D.C. Council are trying to expedite the passage of a bill that would reform services for LGBT homeless youth before the next Council session in an effort to address what advocates are saying is a growing problem.

Bill B19-1012, also known as the LGBTQ Homeless Youth Reform Act of 2012, is sponsored by Councilmember Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) and has been co-sponsored by six other councilmembers since its introduction in October.

As introduced, the bill tasks the Interagency Council on Homelessness (ICH) with working with the Office of GLBT Affairs to calculate the population of homeless youth who identify as LGBTQ, recommend a certain number of beds to be set aside for that population, develop a budget to fund facilities or services accessed by homeless LGBTQ youth, promote policies aimed at preventing or reducing the rate of homelessness among that population, and ensure that the services provided are culturally competent.

Activists and advocates say the bill is a good step forward, but have concerns regarding a number of its provisions.

At a Nov. 19 hearing of the Council’s Committee on Human Services, chaired by Councilmember Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), several youth and LGBT advocates spoke in favor of the bill, but suggested it could be improved. All advocates, for example, urge an amended definition of what constitutes a ”homeless youth.” Nearly all those testifying at the hearing recommended that the definition be expanded beyond an age limit of 18, to 24.

”We would argue that a young person at the age of 22 at a shelter is just as vulnerable as a 17-year-old,” said Maggie Riden, executive director of the DC Alliance of Youth Advocates.

Eddy Ameen, a member of the Youth Working Group at The DC Center, the city’s LGBT community center, testified that some LGBT youth who have used the District’s general adult shelters have complained of harassment, threats or physical violence due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. One such incident occurred at a D.C. shelter in February when a 24-year-old gay man reported to the Metropolitan Police Department that awoke in the middle of the night to find an acquaintance, whom he had known to carry a knife, threatening him and bragging to other residents that he would cut the youth’s throat.

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com