JBAY’s Policy Reforms Increase Housing for Foster and Homeless Youth
When Cody Van Felden turned 18, she became homeless after her foster parents kicked her out of the house because the funding they received for her care ended.
Van Felden bounced around the Sacramento area from one temporary living situation to the next: She crashed on the floor of a friend’s apartment for five months; she slept in another friend’s car for three months; she lived with an abusive boyfriend for eight months.
“I felt alone, confused, and abandoned,” Van Felden says.
During the years she was unhoused, Van Felden says she couldn’t find a single housing program she was eligible for and shelters felt unsafe for young women. Finally, after years of no contact, relatives from her biological family reached out and offered her a stable and safe place to stay.
Today, Van Felden is pushing for housing reform as a foster youth advocate at John Burton Advocates for Youth – or JBAY for short. Since its founding in 2004 by John Burton, a former California politician, JBAY has helped thousands of California’s foster and homeless youth gain safe housing, economic security, and access to higher education through policy reforms, technical assistance, and research.
So far, with Van Felden’s help, JBAY has pushed for state investment to ensure youth homelessness is addressed in California, resulting in $633 million in new funding for housing and services for youth experiencing homelessness.
Much of the state funding will go toward new housing construction for young people. JBAY is currently working with nine housing developments, providing assistance so that the developers may submit successful applications to access the funding.
JBAY’s work to prevent youth homelessness has already been profound, says Amy Lemley, JBAY’s executive director. Between 2020 and 2022 alone, the state experienced a 21% reduction in the number of unaccompanied homeless youth, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“While homelessness is increasing in California, thanks to the advocacy of JBAY, homelessness among unaccompanied youth actually decreased,” Lemley says.
Van Felden uses her lived experience in foster care and homelessness to change laws, so no other foster youth experience the fear and abandonment she did. During a recent briefing with 63 legislative staff, she spoke to the heightened risk of violence and abuse among foster youth who become homeless, asking that the state make more homeless youth programs permanent.
“If these programs are funded ongoing, homeless youth today may struggle with homelessness for a shorter duration of time or hopefully not at all,” she says.
Executive Director: Amy Lemley
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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When I was 17, I’d been sleeping at a park for several months and my social worker came to see me. She told me about a new program called SILP. It sounded too good to be true. I cried when I got it. This option gives young people like me a sense of hope and trust in the system again. It has meant being able to hold my own and still be supported.
Be the Safety Net for Foster and Homeless Youth
Foster youth often lack a safety net of people to call on when they need help, so when unexpected costs occur, they can have life-altering consequences: losing a job, dropping out of school, or homelessness.
“Even though we’re changing state laws and regulations for the long term, we know young people need help today,” says Amy Lemley, JBAY’s executive director.
The Burton Critical Needs and Opportunity Fund is designed to provide that safety net, with funds going directly into the hands of young people when they need it most. JBAY is raising $250,000 this year, and with a $1-for-$1 match, donors can double their impact on helping 1,600 young people with basic necessities like school supplies, transportation, medical bills, and groceries.
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Conrad N. Hilton Foundation
George and Judy Marcus
Help for Children
John and Mary Pat Kagel
Pritzker Foster Care Initiative
Sisters of St. Joseph
Tipping Point Community
United Way California
Walter S. Johnson Foundation