As information regarding the coronavirus and its potential threat of becoming a pandemic permeate every media outlet arising in pandemonium, prolonged homelessness as a social problem continues to fall through the cracks. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness in 2018, a total of 552,830 people experienced homelessness. This is an estimate calculated by using the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department’s annual Point-in-Time (PIT) count which is collected through Continuum of Care (COC) communities who self-report the homeless population. We believe that the self-report nature of the PIT count may hide a much higher number of the unhoused that went unreported. In our opinion, placing a focus on the subpopulations included in this group would help to eradicate this ongoing national issue. Establishing potential prevention, outreach, and permanency models for each subpopulation, such as former foster youth, prior to their experience with homelessness would be a good start.
Recent statistics obtained by Foster Focus outlined that half of the national homeless population has involvement in foster care. When correlating this statistic with the PIT count in 2018, we posit that there may be over 250,000 members of the homeless population that have a history of foster care. As per The National Center for Housing and Child Welfare (NCHCW), about 20,000 youth age out of foster care annually; roughly 25% of them experience homelessness within four years of leaving the system. Foster Focus also reported that 40% to 50% transitional aged youth (TAY) who leave care experience homelessness within 18 months of aging out. These astronomical statistics could be a result of the lack of a stable support system, limited access to affordable housing and ignorance to available resources. We believe that the earlier interventions can occur, the better the outcomes. Providing current foster youth with support and resources to aid their self-sufficiency will make them less likely to experience homelessness and in turn, help diminish the rise in homelessness.
Most foster youth enter into a state of dependence during childhood or adolescence. Thus, social workers have enough time to educate their charges on the realities of homelessness and how to avoid falling into it. They should also discuss the implications of being unable to sustain housing, provide basic needs, and the importance of self-sufficiency. Furthermore, they should ensure that foster youth understand the resources available to mitigate the struggles associated with transitioning out. Many youth lack access to resources and can’t advocate for themselves effectively when applying for affordable housing programs like Section 8, low-income housing or assisted living. Basic life skills and transitional plans should also be introduced with youth early to better prepare them for the responsibilities of adulthood.
Foster youth should also be made aware of programs that offer career/employment readiness, soft-skill preparation, and budgeting. Moreover, if TAY were encouraged to seek employment prior to aging out, they would be better equipped to avoid homelessness. Furthermore, awareness of programs that teach renter’s rights, tenant responsibilities, landlord outreach assistance, and how to prevent eviction would provide more housing stability. Homelessness for TAY is a serious issue that must be addressed with greater urgency, prior to them aging out. It is our duty to provide knowledge, resources, and programs that assist this future generation in securing stable, permanent housing.
In January 2020, HUD Secretary Ben Carson awarded $500,000 to the housing authorities in Florida, Kentucky, Virginia and Oregon to assist TAY at risk of homelessness called the Foster Youth to Independence initiative (FYI). If this type of program were available nationwide, it would have a tremendous impact on preventing TAY homelessness. If a nationwide FYI initiative was combined with life-skills classes in foster care, the problem could be significantly reduced.