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  • Writer's pictureAnn Wrixon

Foster Youth Can Avoid Homelessness If Helped

Ann Wrixon blog on foster youth homelessness

In a study published in 2018, researchers did an outcome evaluation of Bay Area Youth Center’s Real Alternatives for Adolescents (RAFA) transitional housing program in Hayward, California. The results show that foster youth who live in rent-free transitional housing with other supportive services have better outcomes. This research is particularly important because On June 27, 2018, California created the Homeless Emergency Aid Program (HEAP), which will provide $500 million to communities to address homelessness. The legislation requires counties to dedicate 5% ($25 million) to addressing homelessness among youth, and foster youth are more likely than other youth to face homelessness.

“Youth in RAFA live independently in apartments in Hayward, California and regular support is provided by a team of staff. Staff support youth with learning and practicing independent living skills (including budgeting, grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning and accessing public transportation and assistance), as well as achieving educational and employment goals. Participants receive food stipends each month and do not pay rent. RAFA participants must go to school regularly, attend county ILSP services, be present at weekly community meetings and roommate mediations, and work or volunteer at least ten hours per week.

“Weekly clinical case management, mental health, and therapeutic group services are also provided. Master's level case managers and clinicians support the youth with their goals. The aim of the program is to reduce homelessness and involvement in the criminal justice system and to increase achievement in education, employment and overall independent living skills. Crisis and emergency support is available to the youth 24 h per day, seven days per week. The program also provides services to foster youth ages 16 to 20 years who have one child or are at least six months pregnant.” (p. 363)

The researchers conclude, “Research has shown that older and former foster youth struggle with many different challenges including poverty, substance use, mental health issues, unemployment, and early pregnancy to name a few. In the absence of an adequate supply of affordable, quality housing units, especially in expensive places like the San Francisco Bay Area, youth can experience difficulty with successfully transitioning to adulthood. Successful supportive housing programs may offer these young people the opportunity of stable housing, while paying minimal or no rent, to save money and to develop daily living and employment skills. Youth can also complete their high school diplomas or pursue post-secondary education while living in such transitional housing programs. Unfortunately, most transitional housing programs for older foster youth often are unaware of the general outcomes of the youth at exit, and even less so many years later.” (p. 364).

HEAP will allow each county to develop programs to alleviate and/or prevent youth homelessness, which foster youth are more likely than other youth to become. The amount allocated for each California county is available on the John Burton Advocates for Youth web site . In addition, they have a fact sheet and FAQ about HEAP on their web site.

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