On Wednesday, more than 100 volunteers bearing hammers and orange hard hats descended on the house — not just to make it habitable but to transform it into a home for the District’s homeless youths.
“We’re calling it a blitz build,” Jim Beck yelled over the din of a power saw cutting through plywood. Beck is the development director at Sasha Bruce Youthwork, a local nonprofit that helps at-risk kids — and the organization leading the renovation.
“When it was donated to us last July, this house was dilapidated. Totally unlivable,” he said. “We’re totally gutting it, adding new bathrooms, bedrooms, a kitchen, a community room, large windows, a greenhouse, a garden that we hope will become a community garden for the neighborhood.
“We even have a wishing tree,” Beck said, gesturing to the only source of shade in the front yard. Hanging from pieces of twine spun around the tree’s thick trunk were handwritten wishes composed by volunteers and passersby:
“Peace in the new home.” “For youth to have a mother and father.” “To create a dream and enjoy the journey.”
For many children, that is easier wished than accomplished.
In its 2012 report on homelessness released this week, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments’ Homeless Services Planning and Coordinating Committee found that there are 3,338 homeless children in the District and its suburbs.
Last year, a survey of nearly 500 unaccompanied young people between ages 12 and 24 by the D.C. Alliance of Youth Advocates found that 330 were homeless on the night prior to filling out the survey. The others were at high risk of homelessness or living in unstable housing situations, according to the alliance.
Youthwork operates 60 units of housing for young people who are homeless. The renovated home on D Street will be able to house eight people, specifically older teenagers.
“There isn’t really a place for the older youth, the 17-, 18-, 19-year-olds,” said Dan Davis, Youthwork’s outreach director. “Young people are being asked by their families to step up and help out at home. When they can’t, they need to find another place to live. That might mean staying with a girlfriend or something. . . . Then those welcomes eventually get shorter and fewer and far between. We’re expanding the capacity for that population.”
But housing is only one part of the equation, said Deborah Shore, who founded Youthwork in 1974. She has worked for the past four decades trying to prevent the types of situations that lead to youth homelessness.
“We want to strengthen young people’s capacity to imagine their future and to recognize what’s getting in the way,” Shore said.