Foster Youth Speak Up to Increase Housing Affordability
“What am I doing here?”
That is the question that foster youth Yuki Huang asked herself when she lived in a cockroach infested studio apartment in the Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco. She was attending online classes at Arizona State and was placed in a Supervised Independent Living Placement (SILP), where she received $1,129 to pay for everything: her rent, food, transportation and all household supplies.
For that amount, her quality of housing was not good. “My home was supposed to be my safe place, my peace,” she says. “I came home to see a cockroach running across the room. Cockroaches would come out of nowhere. That affected my mental wellbeing. It made me unhappy. It made me feel terrible.”
Yuki is one of five current and former foster youth profiled in a new publication by John Burton Advocates for Youth (JBAY), “Life in a Supervised Independent Living Placement: Foster Youth Explain the Impact of the Housing Crisis on Their Lives.”
Through their experiences, these five young people bring to light the reality of life in a SILP and the impact of its lack of housing affordability. JBAY is sponsoring Assembly Bill (AB) 525, authored by Assemblymember Phil Ting, which would increase the foster care rate for youth living in a SILP based on the local cost of housing.
Joel Swazo, a former foster youth and graphic design student at Los Angeles City College, explained the emotional toll of not having enough money to be stably housed and knowing that temporary housing arrangements can end at any moment.
“Emotionally it was very traumatic and heartbreaking, because you think that you can stay,” he says. “But not living with people who are your family or your loved ones, they can just say: ‘you can’t really stay here anymore. I just no longer have space for you.’”
Former foster youth Alexis Barries was part of the first cohort of young people to be placed in a SILP when it was first established. She is working with JBAY to advocate for AB 525. “The reality is, the SILP payment wasn’t enough in 2012, and it’s not enough in 2023.”
She is hoping through AB 525, foster youth achieve the housing security she didn’t experience in extended foster care. “It’s hard for young people in the system, and anybody really, to focus on anything else without feeling secure. Feeling like you have a home, a place to lay your head, is the most important piece to transitioning into adulthood and to taking your next step in life.”
Former foster youth and current Sacramento State student Aja Dunlap was placed in a SILP and quickly saw that it would not be enough to pay for rent. After graduating from high school, she turned to everyone she knew to secure a living situation where she could use her SILP payment. “I was literally contacting everyone in my phone,” she says. “Everyone kept saying ‘no,’ or some people would say, they’re out of town for the summer. So, I basically was turned down. It makes you feel angry and just sad and depressed.”
Christina Torrez was also placed in a SILP along with her infant daughter. She didn’t meet the participation conditions of extended foster care for one month, which resulted in homelessness. “If I had more money, it would’ve helped me maintain my housing a lot longer,” she says. Instead, she experienced two years of couch surfing.
Despite these challenges, each of the young people profiled has hope for the future. They will provide expert testimony at upcoming hearings and meet with legislators to make the case that the SILP rate should be adjusted based on the local cost of housing. A full description of their experiences is included in JBAY’s recent publication.
According to Alexis, “From my perspective as a foster youth of yesterday, I think we need to invest in the foster youth of today. Foster care is not a choice–it’s a reality. It’s the reality that we’re given and I think that everyone should have an interest in finding solutions.”
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Development Associate: Jeffrey Lee
John Burton Advocates for Youth improves the quality of life for youth in California who have been in foster care or homeless by advocating for better laws, training communities to strengthen local practices and conducting research to inform policy solutions.
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I am very grateful to have access to a foster youth program at UC Berkeley, which helps me stay on track, even when times get tough. Thanks to JBAY, foster youth across California will receive more of the support we need.
John Burton Turns 90, Celebrate His Legacy
JBAY is launching a tribute fund in honor of the legacy of John Burton, who dedicated his life to serving those most in need. In the short term, the fund will be used to give foster youth, who were hurt financially by the pandemic, the resources to get back on track, including helping them attain a college degree. Through JBAY’s legislative efforts, the amount of foster youth enrolled in community college has skyrocketed from 26,000 five years ago to 42,000 today.
“Let’s not lose faith; positive change is happening every day,” says Amy Lemley, JBAY’s executive director. “We are launching the most vulnerable young people into an economy where they are going to create a life for themselves.”
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