Playtime Advocates for Children's Needs
In providing play to children in emergency shelters, schools, and "Pop-Up" events, Playtime is in a unique position to gain insight into the unmet needs of children and families experiencing housing instability. We feel a responsibility to advocate for the specific needs of children and their families and to be a voice for a marginalized population facing structural barriers rooted in racial, ethnic, and gender inequities.
We advocate for:
- Increased play and related opportunities to nurture healthy social, emotional, and physical development in children living in shelters;
- Greater access to basic and developmentally supportive services that promote resilience in children and families experiencing housing insecurity;
- Deeper public and local government understanding of the evidence-based benefits of play in healthy childhood development, particularly for children experiencing the trauma of homelessness;
- Building new partnerships with local organizations and short-term housing sites to build a wider net for access to play.
The centers of a child’s world is most often their home and their school. Without a stable home, schools become an even more critical source of community and family support. Therefore, Playtime believes it’s important for us to help protect the right of a free and appropriate education for children experiencing housing insecurity. All too often, the children we serve are sidelined by school push-out, education access issues, and other barriers to school participation.
During the summer of 2019, Playtime conducted a survey with Playtime parents to hone in on areas of need. Housing was, of course, the number one issue, but we discovered that transportation was a close second. Many families living in the hotel shelters struggled to get to work and to get their children to school on time because of lengthy commutes. Upon learning this, we alerted the city, but it took months for city officials to listen. In the interim, we received a generous $15,000 emergency grant from the Philip L. Graham Fund that provided ride-share gift cards to 75 Playtime families living in the hotels to help their kids get to school during December 2019.
Initially, the city agreed to begin a pilot program that was due to end on February 29, 2020, but with more advocating from some of our supporters like D.C. Education Coalition for Change and a little media coverage, the shuttle was extended through the end of the school year. Then Covid hit and the schools shut down. Shortly thereafter, the last of the overflow shelter hotels closed. Transportation needs for all families experiencing homelessness must be continually evaluated and addressed pro-actively to ensure their rights the under McKinney Vento Law are respected.
Playtime shares the city’s goals to reduce family housing insecurity, but we are concerned that a reliance on short-term vouchers leaves most families unable to sustain market rate rents.
Most of those families were placed in Rapid Rehousing, which provides a rental subsidy that lasts six to 18 months. However, when that subsidy ends, families are responsible for the full market rate, putting them at high risk for cycling back to loss of housing.
Playtime has partnered with organizations to help ensure the D.C. Council and Mayor’s Office take action to ensure more permanent affordable housing for families who cannot afford market rate rent. We were encouraged to see passage of the tax bill in August 2021 that provided assistance to 2,500 families, which will make a real difference in preventing homelessness for those families. Now our attention turns to strengthening case management in Rapid Rehousing to make sure children’s educational, mental health, and wellbeing is included. Families must have the support they need so children won’t have to grow up under the constant stress of housing insecurity.
During the course of the last year, Playtime partnered with DC Action and worked diligently to build a coalition founded on advocating for critical services for children in family shelters, including play opportunities that children need to help break the cycle of family housing insecurity.
With almost 40 partner organizations and growing, we have established a group focused on making sure children within the homelessness system receive priority in getting the services they need. This includes creating conversations in the community, identifying advocacy-based actions, and organizing families to include their voices around the table. Coalition organizations include Children's Law Center, Sasha Bruce Youthworks, Strong Start, DC Fiscal Policy Institute, DC OSSE, DC Public Charter School Board, National Center for Youth Law, and Fair Girls. Stay tuned for exciting new updates!
As schools battle COVID learning loss, under-enrollment, and work to ensure student health and safety, Playtime continues to help students and families remove barriers to education access. Playtime offers to help families navigate the special education system, address enrollment issues, bullying, and anything else children need to thrive in school.