For young people coming out of foster care, housing support is crucial

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“Having a place to call home gives hope and stability, which is essential, especially when you grew up in a system that gave you neither.”

Adi Talwar

It’s midnight, you’ve just turned 18 and the clock is ticking. You don’t know if you should be excited for another year on this planet or stressed out with a ton of negative emotions, knowing that your lifeline is about to be cut.

For many, turning 18 means being a legal adult, having newfound freedom from things that parents or guardians used to control and limit, and the average age at which high school students graduate and start accepting university admission offers. This month, more than 80% of New York City high school students who have been enrolled for four years (grades 9 through 12) will graduate.

Turning 18 initiates an exciting transition in a teenager’s life to adulthood. However, this transition for young people in foster care is usually not as smooth or exciting.

Each year, more than 250,000 children are placed in the foster care system in the United States. And every year, more than 23,000 young people between the ages of 18 and 21 fall out of this system and lose the support that comes with it. In the New York metropolitan area alone, thousands of young people age every year, and some are discharged to mental institutions, correctional facilities and other “unspecified” destinations.

I was one of those young people and never expected to live past 18. I defied the odds, but what’s next? In anticipation of aging, I remember working with my lawyer around the age of 16 (not my foster care agency), so that a judge could sign papers to put me on several waiting lists for housing with a zero priority level and one child exemption. This priority level is the highest level my demographic can get, and it’s the same level that victims of domestic violence and others in similar situations are eligible for.

This means that I am eligible to be placed on waiting lists for housing despite my age, in hopes of not having to wait that long for an apartment. When I turned 18, two years later, I asked my lawyer if she could get an update on my housing waitlist status. But there was no hope in sight for me, a person who defied his odds and had just started community college in New York.

After jumping from place to place and being homeless, I was lucky enough to be accepted into a four-year college in Buffalo, New York, and live in a dorm, one of the first places of stability that I have had for a very long time. time. My own bed, a shared bathroom with my roommates, and the biggest (smallest) closet I’ve ever had in my life. This dorm met housing needs that I otherwise would never have received.

In the spring of 2017, I was getting my baccalaureate, about six years after my initial registration on these waiting lists for housing. During this semester I was surprised to receive an obscure e-mail from a former social worker at my foster care agency who told me that my name was finally out and that I might be able to get a apartment (luckily I have kept my email address active all those years, otherwise this information might never have reached me.)

During my last semester, I was informed of my acceptance into a Ph.D. program. I was blessed and very lucky, had wonderful mentors and worked hard to break down barriers every day. Despite my success so far, I was deeply angry that I had far too many older adoptive friends who were incarcerated, killed, living in long term homelessness, unemployed and not thriving. Having a place to call home gives hope and stability, which is essential, especially when you grew up in a system that gave you neither. My situation is atypical for people like me and it’s not a question of effort – I know many who I admired, and those who tried harder than me, who didn’t succeed.

New York City and state governments need to do more to make sure young people out of care can more easily get housing, because having a higher priority often doesn’t work, as shown. my experience. This population rarely has family or external support, and some might say the system is set up to fail them. If we want them to have the tools to be independent, we have to do better.

The aging population tends to have very poor outcomes such as criminal justice involvement, substance abuse, increase in unplanned pregnancies, low educational/professional level, and long-lasting high unemployment rates. Among young people who age out of the system each year in the United States, 20% will end up homeless, 25% will be involved in the legal system within two years and 50% will lose their own children in foster care, according to a study. . found.

When these young people succeed and thrive, it is often because they have the resources associated with a stable home and other sources of support. To illustrate, a study with the Parsons Child and Family Center asked young people aging out of care what their top three concerns were that they felt would prevent them from moving smoothly into life. out of support. At the top of the list, with the highest level of concern, was housing, followed by education and money tied for second. Unsurprisingly, in my lived experience, going to jail was also a concern.

The consensus is that the most pressing issue for this demographic is housing stability, including finding a home, being able to afford it, and turning an empty space into a furnished home. Having a home was significantly linked to positive outcomes such as the ability to maintain employment, education, and an overall healthy lifestyle.

This is where Hearts to Homes comes in. Hearts to Homes (H2H) helps newly independent young adults who have just come out of foster care in the New York area. Many of these young people leave care with very few assets and little or no family support. Once they are able to find accommodation, Hearts to Homes creates a more comfortable living situation by furnishing their entire apartment. H2H partners with 20 foster care agencies to serve this demographic in New York, Nassau, Suffolk, and Westchester counties. In addition to furnishing the apartment, H2H is often able to obtain basic necessities for new or pregnant parents.

In doing so, H2H is able to limit the negative outcomes that so many face, including homelessness, incarceration, and the multi-generational foster care cycle. To my knowledge, only one other organization, City Living NY, provides a similar service in this geographic area. Fortunately, I was personally helped by Hearts to Homes, and I still have all my furniture to this day. Their help made all the difference.

Due to my experiences, I have always felt an obligation to give back to any ability given to me, including my volunteer efforts with Hearts to Homes years after they supported me, where I I was able to participate in the development of programs and events, and give the point of view of someone who has aged out of the system. I use the research skills I accumulated in graduate school to understand what makes H2H such an effective model and how to better serve the young people who go through the program.

Hearts to Homes tracks all young people who have been supported by the program and has found that 93% are still in stable housing and not homeless or incarcerated, and 92% of parents still have custody of their children. In the words of two young people who have completed the program:

“With your help, I was able to lift a lot of weight off my shoulders. I was very worried about my transition from care to independent living, especially when it came to buying everything I would need. lucky for me, you were able to help me. I know ‘things’ don’t make a place a home, but your help makes it so much easier to turn this place into a home. I’m grateful.”

“I would like to say thank you. Hearts to Homes was like my karma coming back – for everything that was taken away from me, we’re going to give it all back to you. It’s a really satisfying feeling. Sometimes I put my baby to bed and just go sit on the couch, and it’s the most peaceful thing ever.

We have identified that over 50% of our youth seek mentorship for things like being a good adult or parent, learning to cook, successfully completing training, and guidance on specific career paths. To this end, we have developed a mentorship mechanism, in which we partner and refer our youth to other organizations based on their needs. In the long term, we are evaluating the best options to create a more comprehensive mentorship program that will become an integral part of H2H.

The ability of Hearts to Homes to support these young people in housing stability is a huge step forward and should be a model of care that all aging young people should be able to obtain. Compared to the well-documented costs of homelessness, incarceration, and multi-generational foster care, the average cost for H2H to furnish a home is minimal.

We owe these children, especially those who are aging, the range of service, support and love I have received over the years. I’m better off and tens of thousands of children in the future will be happier, safer and on the path to a decent life if the city and communities in the tri-state area can get involved. to support programs like this.

Jeremiah Perez-Torres is a foster youth advocate, doctoral candidate, and assistant professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

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