Written by Koube Ngaaje, Executive Director of District Alliance for Safe Housing
Imagine being 18 years old again, about to begin the journey into adulthood. No longer a child, but not yet a grown up, navigating the enormous changes and new demands that come at this major transition point in life. You might be exploring numerous new roles and transitions, leaving behind your adolescent support networks, finding a job, and forming more complex intimate relationships. It can be an exciting time, but unfortunately it is also a time of intense vulnerability.
Transitioning youth (aged 18 to 24 years) are more likely to experience domestic or sexual violence during this phase of their life than at any other time. The 2015 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey found that almost half of women who experienced violence by an intimate partner first experienced it between 18 and 24 years of age. For marginalized populations, such as LGBTQ youth and those living in poverty, experiencing homelessness, or exiting the foster care system, this period is particularly precarious, and their risk level is even higher.
To compound this issue, transitioning youth often have the least contact with support services. Transition services that are geared specifically to smoothing the progression from adolescent to adult services are few and far between, so these young adults are often pushed into adult services that are ill-prepared to meet their needs, especially as they recover from abuse. In DC, the experience of domestic violence is the most defining characteristic of homelessness or housing instability for this age group.
The District Alliance for Safe Housing (DASH) is the largest provider of safe housing for survivors of domestic and sexual violence in Washington, DC. We believe that all survivors deserve a safe place to call home, including transitioning youth. This is why we have created our newest, innovative program, Right to Dream.
What is Right to Dream?
Right to Dream is a scattered site housing program for transitioning youth (aged 18-24 years) who are survivors of domestic and/or sexual violence and are experiencing housing instability or homelessness. Like all of DASH’s programs, it is survivor-centered, low-barrier, voluntary, and trauma-informed.
Through Right to Dream, 20 transitioning youth survivors will receive wraparound supports and housing assistance for up to two years. They will be partnered with a DASH advocate who will help them find and set up their new home in the DC Metro area, check in with them regularly, and help them develop a plan for their safety. DASH advocates will support participants to identify their long-term goals and help them eliminate the barriers to achievement, helping them gain the skills, knowledge and supports to be confident adults who break the cycle of power and control their abusers forced on them.
Right to Dream participants will have access to educational opportunities, job training and career planning as well as a range of other community-based supports to help them recover from their trauma and become empowered. The goal at the end of the program is for each participant to be economically secure and able to maintain the lease on their own or, if they choose, to move to similar lease, and transition to self-sufficient adulthood.
Why are we doing this?
There are very few long-term transitional housing programs in our area that cater specifically to transitioning youth survivors. DASH saw the immense need for support services for this population and designed the Right to Dream initiative to start filling the gap. Right to Dream will expand the availability of youth-friendly, survivor-focused, long-term transitional housing and services.
What are we hoping to accomplish?
Our Right to Dream program has two primary goals: to ensure short-term and long-term stability for transitioning youth survivors. We want to assist youth survivors to get stable housing right away, and we want to help them find long-term economic and housing stability, meaning a secure job, and a place they can call home. But ultimately, this program is about more than just providing safe housing. For many of these young people, the support DASH provides will help break intergenerational cycles of abuse and enable them to build lives free of violence.