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Taking the Next Step to Serve More Children

Child playing Jenga

It looks like family homelessness is improving in the District.

Over the past two years, the District of Columbia has reported a drop in family homelessness. The city’s 2020 Annual Point-in-Time (PIT) count reported 767 families with 1,420 children experiencing homelessness, and in 2021 the numbers fell to 402 families with 721 children.

Where have these families gone? Record numbers have been placed into apartments through the Rapid Rehousing Program, which provides a short-term rental subsidy.

On the surface, this looks like a fantastic step toward ending homelessness. However, once the Rapid Rehousing subsidy ends, after six to eighteen months, families are responsible for the full rent. For families with an income below the poverty level, D.C.’s market rates are unaffordable and families are often forced to return to shelters. Though COVID-era safety-net measures have reduced the number of families returning to shelters, concerns grow for what will happen when evictions resume.

The lower PIT numbers don’t tell the whole story. What we don’t see are all the families who are couch-surfing or living doubled-up with family or friends. Many of these families live outside the system and are less likely to be connected to important services to help both parents and children cope and rebound.

The Office of the State Superintendent of Education reported 7,139 students experienced homelessness during the 2019-2020 school year, a much higher number than the 2020 PIT count. This is because the U.S. Department of Education defines a person experiencing homelessness as an individual who “lacks fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence,” which includes doubling-up. Keep in mind, these numbers don’t include children too young to be enrolled in school, and those under five typically make up the majority of children experiencing homelessness.

Playtime has always been committed to following the children and serving them where they are. To that end, as we grow our programming beyond shelters to include community-based outlets, I am thrilled to announce that starting this month, Playtime will become a partner with J.C. Nalle Elementary School in Ward 7 to provide play programming and resources twice a week!

Piloting a school-based program is a logical next step for Playtime to reach more children experiencing housing instability. In Ward 7, the median income for Black Americans is under $40,000, and 23.26% of the population lives below the poverty line.

J.C. Nalle opened in 1950 and became D.C.’s first community school in the late 1990s, working with local organizations to address students’ non-academic needs. It is a Title I school that receives federal funds to support students from low-income backgrounds improve academic achievement.

We can’t wait to become part of their supporting network and build on the community school legacy they have created!

“J.C. Nalle is excited to partner with the Homeless Children’s Playtime Project because the team is so committed to serving our kids with dignity,” said Principal Jacob Lappi. “We only work with partners who are focused on seeing the very best our children and families bring to the table while building on their strengths and passions. We know that our on-going partnership will be one that serves our children well without turning the challenges they face into a stigma. We have some amazing and beautiful kids who will benefit from this partnership because Playtime brings the right skills and heart to the work.”

Playtime is honored to begin serving the children of J.C. Nalle and reaching children experiencing homelessness and housing insecurity in the community. We look forward to establishing a long and rewarding partnership.