Foster Care and Homelessness

I’ve since started working for the same hospital that Joshua took his last breath in and it has been such an amazing experience. I work at a clinic that works specifically with the homeless population. This is an extremely vulnerable population that struggles with substance abuse, mental health issues, trauma, and for some, time spent in the foster care system. This is not a new phenomenon, in fact, there is a large number of youth who transition out of foster care and at some point in their lifetimes experience homelessness. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2015), there are more than 20,000 youth each year that age out of foster care and lose access to their safety nets overnight.

According to a report conducted by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (2014), based on the current research it is estimated that between 11 and 37% of youth who age out of foster care experience homelessness. This number is presented as a gap of information due to the limited amount of research put forth for this population. A lot of people do not realize how critical housing is for individuals, especially youth who are interested in working and attending school. “Because housing stability is intertwined with self-sufficiency, it may be especially important during the transition to adulthood. For instance, young people with stable housing are better able to continue their schooling and maintain gainful employment (Johnson et al., 2010; Sommer et al., 2009), and they find accessing needed physical and mental health care and social services much easier (Wade and Dixon, 2006).”

Federal policies and funding have been put in place to assist youth in finding housing. These programs include The Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008, which focuses on which extends the age of eligibility for Title IV-E child welfare reimbursement from 18 to 21 years old for youth who meet certain criteria. This major policy change enables states that have extended care to age 21 to use Title IV-E funds for this group and gives other states a financial incentive to extend care. As of November 2013, 18 states and the District of Columbia can use federal funds for extending care up to age 21 (Heath, 2013). The act also expands the type of reimbursable dwellings to include supervised independent living settings (such as host homes or college dormitories) (HHS ACF, 2010). The next program is the Chaffee Foster Care Independence Program, which provides funding for independent living services for youth in the foster care system and enables states to use up to 30 percent of Chafee funds on housing subsidies, transitional housing, or other housing-related costs. The next program is the Transitional Living Program, which funds local and state governments, community-based organizations, and tribal entities to provide long-term housing and supportive services to homeless youth ages 16 to 21 who cannot return home. Another program is the Education and Training Voucher Program, which provides up to $5,000 annually to youth eligible for Chafee-funded services who are attending a qualified postsecondary institution. The stipend may be used for housing costs.

According to a report conducted by HUD (United States Department of Housing and Urban Development), “The survey results showed that 47 percent (91 of 195) of PHAs operating FUP had awarded vouchers to former foster youth in the 18 months prior to the survey. Furthermore, PHAs that were serving youth allocated fewer than one-third of their FUP vouchers to youth, on average. Overall, youth constituted only about 14 percent of total FUP program participant. “ Although there is funding, it is not always implemented in the most effective way, which leaves thousands of youth who have transitioned out homeless. There has to be more research and energy placed into identifying protective factors for this population in order to create positive change and to change the trajectory in moving towards decreasing homelessness not only within this population but overall.