The D.C. Council’s Committee of the Whole on Dec. 17 voted unanimously to give preliminary approval for the LGBTQ Homeless Youth Reform Act of 2013.
The legislation, among other things, allocates funds for expanding existing homeless facilities to include additional beds for “youth who identify themselves as lesbian gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning.”
The Council is expected to vote on a first reading of the bill at its next session on Jan. 7. Mayor Vincent Gray has said he would sign the bill when it reaches his desk.
Council members Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) and Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) co-introduced the bill in January 2013. Most of their Council colleagues signed on as co-sponsors. The Council’s Committee on Human Services, which is chaired by Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who’s gay, made several revisions to the bill before reporting it out to the full Council earlier this month.
One of the changes expanded the definition of youth to include people 23 years old and younger rather than the original language that covered youth under the age of 18. LGBT rights advocates have long expressed concern that the city’s homeless shelters and homeless service providers were not adequately meeting the needs of LGBT homeless youth, who often are rejected by their parents because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
The Wanda Alston House, which is partially funded by the city, provides housing and other services to homeless LGBT youth, but has only eight beds and a long waiting list of youth in need of a place to stay. Christopher Dyer, president of the Alston House board, said the new bill would be “very beneficial” to the Alston House and its mission to help homeless LGBT youth.
The bill’s provisions include a requirement that at least every five years the city’s Interagency Council on Homelessness coordinates with the Office of GLBT Affairs to develop and outline policies to reduce the rate of homelessness for GLBTQ youth. It also requires homeless service providers to implement “best practices for the culturally competent care of homeless youth who identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning.”