Change is in the Air for Playtime

Posted by on Jan 4, 2017 in Blog, Featured Stories |

Change is in the Air for Playtime

Photo by Carolina Cabanillas

by Jamila Larson, Executive Director

We enter 2017 against the backdrop of some sobering new statistics: Washington, D.C. just saw more than a 100% increase in family homelessness over the past seven years. This is the sharpest increase of any 32 U.S. major cities, except Wichita. About 3,000 District children are somewhere in the city’s homeless services system at any given time.

Every year, Playtime touches almost 800 children struggling to maintain a sense of normalcy while experiencing the stress of living in temporary housing. For years, our five sites have brought the oasis of play to families at D.C. General, DASH, Turning Point Center, New Beginning and Hope Apartments. But as the numbers of children experiencing homelessness explodes, we are forced to take a hard look at where we are and make some tough decisions about where we need to be.

That’s why our two smallest sites, Hope Apartments and New Beginning, will become Playtime “affiliate” sites, running independently of our organization, as partners. We will continue to provide limited support to help ensure Playtime continues there without our staff onsite, and that the volunteer Site Coordinators receive ongoing training and support. By going back to our roots of volunteer leadership at these two sites, it is our hope that we expand the ways Playtime can be implemented at other locations, with the ultimate goal of reaching more children with a customized approach. This will help inform future programmatic possibilities as we plan for D.C. General’s eventual closure (possibly four years from now) when the seven replacement family shelters are expected to open.

This change will allow us to “go deeper” at our three larger sites this year, as well as expand our reach to some of the more than 1,300 children living in shelter overflow motels with no services for children. We are pleased to announce our plan to bring Playtime to the children living temporarily at the Quality Inn on New York Avenue, beginning on January 30. Families live at D.C.’s shelter motels for an average of nine months and this is the first time they will have access to children’s programming tailored to meet their special needs.

We appreciate D.C.’s Department of Human Services, the Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness, and the Quality Inn, who have partnered with us to make this happen. As we prepare to hire a part-time Site Coordinator for this site, we still need volunteers and funding to ensure we can be in the motel for the children who need us the most right now.

Thank you for your support to bring more stability and joy to the lives of the youngest victims of our city’s affordable housing crisis. May the New Year bring a little more kindness and justice to our world!

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Jamila ran Playtime as a volunteer since it was founded in 2003 and assumed the role as first full-time Executive Director in 2009. In 2012, she was named a Washingtonian of the Year by Washingtonian magazine for her leadership of Playtime.