What We Do
We believe that play is a human right that all children deserve, regardless of housing status. We seek to help create a city that provides every opportunity for children to succeed by advocating for affordable housing, safe shelters, and a strong safety net that helps families bounce back from housing instability. Since 2003, our trained and screened volunteers have provided weekly activities, healthy snacks, and opportunities to play and learn for the children at emergency shelter and transitional housing sites in the District of Columbia. In the past ten years, Playtime volunteers have served thousands of children at 5 different sites throughout the city.
Through eighteen weekly children’s programs, staff and volunteers create safe play spaces for children from infants to teenagers at family shelters and transitional housing programs in Washington DC. Our trauma-informed programs seek to restore normalcy by providing opportunities for children to learn and heal through play, and empowering them to make choices, express themselves, relate to others, and find support.
Staff and volunteers serve as role models for youth and allies to the entire family with parent support and referrals, clothing and school supply donations, and opportunities to celebrate with holiday parties throughout the year. We provide field trips so children and youth can experience the rich culture of Washington, DC and take a break from weekends in a shelter. Through advocacy, we lift up the voices of families to ensure that safe, supportive shelters and affordable housing remain priorities for city leaders.
In 2013, we launched the Preteen Program for children in grades 3-8 at the DC General Shelter to provide developmentally appropriate programming centered around social and emotional development, academic enrichment, and creative expression.
Teenagers living in temporary housing programs are often facing multiple stressors and are highly aware of the stigma of their families’ homeless status. It is difficult for teens, who are not allowed to hang out together at the shelter without parental supervision, to find the peer support that is essential for healthy youth development. Many teens in family shelters choose to wander the streets rather than sit in the small room they share with their entire family.
To meet the unique developmental needs of teenagers experiencing homelessness, we created our Teen Program at DC General in 2009. The program follows a positive youth development model and is designed to nurture a teen’s developmental task which centers around peer socialization and identify formation while also providing critical academic support.
During our 3 weekly programs, teens receive academic tutoring, help enrolling in school and work programs, and the opportunity to try out new activities like spray painting, martial arts, yoga, dancing, cooking, and more! Our volunteers serve as mentors, advocates, and facilitators of the time and space teens need to grow and develop with their peers.
Statistic – The Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless
As of January 2012, there were 1,014 homeless families in DC, representing 54% of the total homeless population. Despite their growing numbers, homeless children are invisible to most of us; they have no voice and no constituency.