Homelessness is a pervasive issue among youth aging out of foster. Barriers to housing are unique for former foster youth. Anyone who works in the realm of at risk youth and families deals with this on a daily basis. The Midwest Study states that 31%-46% of youth formerly in foster care report being homeless at least one time by 26 (Dworsky et al., 2013). What is even more frustration about homelessness is how there are accessible resources to help prevent it but so few are actually able to access it due to mental health, functioning level, or trauma.
Coordinated entry model
In the Denver metro area, we have moved to a coordinated entry model. Basically, all housing vouchers and many of the housing support options are now working together to provide resources to the most needy in our community. It’s all based on how they score through the VI-SPADT (Vulnerability Index – Service Prioritization Decision Assistance Tool). The higher the risk, the higher they score and higher they score, the more potential housing option programs they are entered into.
This is quite a transition from our previous model where FUP (Family Unification Program) was our go-to for youth who had aged out. The previous model was a wait list. Maybe they waited a month or it could be 18 months. Now, they may never get the voucher. There are things that I miss about the previous approach but I can appreciate that the vouchers are now given to the most at-risk and in need.
Barriers to housing for former foster youth
My most recent housing struggle came with what we call a “legacy youth”. She had spent several years in our system, mostly in and out of residential or on the run. My Client was always “non-compliant”. What a ridiculous phrase we use in this field but that is exactly how professionals described her. A little side note, don’t use the phrase “non-compliant”, it doesn’t really get to the route of what’s going on. Anyways, my clients case was closed due to her “non-compliance”. Shortly after, while living on the street, she picked up some serious felony charges. If finding housing wasn’t hard enough before, you guessed it, nearly impossible now.
In true statistical fashion, she become pregnant and had a baby within the 1st year she aged out. Connecting her to the right, age appropriate resources was super important. This youth became an amazing mom; attentive, loving, protective, literally everything that we would want a parent to be. She was only missing one thing… housing. I reached out to our youth friendly coordinated entry assessor and was able to get her entered into the system. By the grace of GOD, she was given the Family FUP voucher that very day. With this voucher, she would pay 30% of your income towards rent and the Department of Housing pays the rest. No income, no rent. Major win!
This youth’s story doesn’t end here. We continued to look for apartments that would accept both a voucher and a criminal record. Luckily, Denver passed a law recently that prevents discrimination of funds used for rent. This opened up the field for the voucher piece but kept the felony piece pretty limited. Both her and I spent months calling, asking, and begging potential apartments to give her a chance.
After a ton of time and work, she was able to connect with a woman at local apartment community who was willing to advocate for her. She told her that appeals are an options when clients get denied based on any reason (credit, age, criminal history). After months and months and nearly the expiration of this long-term voucher, we were secure a meeting for the appeal. I prepped my client and she was able to articulate her situation well enough to overturn the denial. She was next on the list. We are days away from getting her housed.
We Must Do Better
While this youth has always been resourceful and able to advocate for herself but what about the youth who doesn’t present well? Do they deserve homelessness? Youth formerly in foster care need more help generally to obtain basic stability. Many lacked the proper support or chances to flex their independence muscles due to institutionalization. Housing is one of the most important elements for our youth and one of the biggest barriers. Add some criminal history, lack of knowledge surrounding independent living skills (filling out apartment apps, budgeting, knowing what to expect in the process), minimal healthy adult supports, and a trauma history, what you have is a recipe for disaster. Social workers must be advocates, educators, and so much more for youth trying prevent homelessness. Housing is a unique barrier for former foster youth. Know your resources and make connections in the community to help your clients.