LANDOVER — The Prince George’s County Department of Social Services (DSS) received $3,482,000 in federal grant funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program to address youth homelessness in the county.
Congressmen Steny H. Hoyer (MD-05) and Anthony Brown (MD-04) and U.S. Senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) announced the funding on Aug. 29.
“Far too many children and young adults face homelessness in Maryland and across our country – and far too little is known about this particularly vulnerable population. This funding will help Prince George’s County better understand and combat this serious problem,” said Van Hollen. “Together, we will keep working to ensure that all Maryland families have access to safe and affordable housing.”
HUD awarded a total of $75 million to 23 local communities around the country through the Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program in its third round of grants. Developed in collaboration with federal agencies and young people who have experienced homelessness themselves, the program serves to support housing programs such as rapid rehousing, permanent supportive housing and transitional housing.
The 23 selected communities will collaborate with partners to develop a coordinated community plan that will prevent and end youth homelessness and fund projects that meet those goals. They will also be a part of an evaluation that will inform the effort on a federal level.
In Prince George’s County, the Promise Prince George’s program will receive funding which will target unaccompanied homeless youth from ages 10 to 24. With this program, there will be four main focus areas: housing, education and training and system structure.
“The idea that any young person is living on the street in our community is one too many,” said Department of Social Services Director Gloria Brown Burnett.
The county also will engage in an extensive eight-month community planning process, said Brown Burnett.
Assisted by HUD-funded TA providers, programs will start by building on the strong service framework in the community to ensure they are designed to meet the identified needs of the county’s youth.
“This is a demonstration program which will allow us to explore, test, refine and measure the outcomes of several different programs and approaches not typically funded to determine what combination of solutions work best and use that collaborative learning to help inform national best practice and future programming aimed at preventing and ending youth homelessness,” Brown Burnett said.
The county uses several methods to determine the severity of youth homelessness in the community, Brown Burnett said. One of those is the annual enumerations of unaccompanied homeless youth and young adults (UHY) which they have been conducting since 2013. From there, between 120-150 youth identify as homeless during those two weeks.
Other methods have found that within the county, youth ages 10 to 24 have a significantly high poverty rate at 24.5% than the county’s overall rate for the total population which was 9.3% as of 2016.
Of the youth living in the county’s inner beltway communities, 22% are disconnected, not in school and not working, which is double the rate for D.C. metro area, according to Measure America. The Prince George’s County Department of Corrections reported 2,327 youth incarcerations in 2018, which included 465 UHY. Maryland’s Youth REACH initiative counted 181 unsheltered youth with another 123 sheltered UHY households in one two-week period.
“Given these data points, it is clear that population is underrepresented in our current studies and these youth are more apt to live in poverty or be homeless, rely on public assistance, become entangled with the justice system, or vulnerable to predatory engagement by organized gangs and trafficking organizations,” Brown Burnett said. “This grant gives us an opportunity to change that narrative and provide comprehensive and inclusive responses.”
County Executive Angela Alsobrooks emphasized that the county has been steadfast in the effort to identify the homeless as well as provide resources and services to them.
“We want our youth to know that their welfare is our priority and they are never alone,” Alsobrooks said. “HUD’s FY2019 Youth Homelessness Demonstration Projects grant award of nearly $3.5 million will certainly enhance our outreach efforts as well as enable us to provide them with more sustainable options and hope for a bright future.”
According to Brown Burnett, the incidences of known homelessness among unaccompanied youth and young adults are reducing as systems and programs are put in place to address the issue. However, the factors that contribute to homelessness still exist.
The county’s UHY surveys found that homeless youth fall into three major categories: 32% are runaways; 44% are throwaways who have been kicked out or told to leave by their family; and 11% are giveaways which were discharged from institutions without the skills or support system to successfully transition to adulthood.
Other reasons for youth homelessness within the county include escaping family violence and abuse, aging out of the foster care system, LGBTQ issues, pregnancy, death of a parent, disability or mental illness.
According to DSS data, another 14% cited leaving foster care as the reason for homelessness, 25% identified housing issues like overcrowding and 7% cited their sexual orientation. Those identifying as LGBTQ accounted for nearly 20% of respondents to the Maryland Youth REACH count.
Although the instances of known homelessness are going down in the county, DSS believes that there are many more who either do not identify with the word homeless, Brown Burnett said. They may feel it is an adult term or those who are eligible are disconnected from systems, services and caring adults who can help.
“Part of this community planning process will allow us to develop even better methodologies for connecting with them and helping them to stabilize and reach their goals.”