Amid COVID-19 Pandemic, Let’s Not Forget Foster Youth

by Christopher Patterson, Michael Burley, Jaime Masters, Christina Meredith

According to the National Center for Housing and Child Welfare, one out of every four of America’s foster youth will be homeless within four years of leaving foster care. In too many cases, these youth end up addicted to drugs, in the sex industry, or even as sex trafficking victims. Sadly, the COVID-19 pandemic has only worsened this reality.

In the last decade, housing access for former foster youths has declined. But despite warnings from child welfare advocates, little has been done at the federal level to directly target new housing and services to meet the needs of the growing number of former foster youth experiencing homelessness. That is unacceptable.

These kids are America’s future, and they should have the opportunity to reach their full potential. Anything short of that deprives us of fulfilled citizenry and future productivity. That is why Ben Carson, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) created Foster Youth to Independence (FYI), a first-of-its-kind program, last June.

FYI provides young people with a child welfare history who are homeless or at risk of homelessness with safe, affordable housing and support to become self-sufficient by attaining their educational and employment goals.

So far, HUD has awarded FYI housing vouchers or family unification funds to public housing authorities serving communities in Fort Worth, Harris County, El Paso, San Marcos and the Brazos Valley.

Since FYI’s launch, 26 states have received funding amounting to 654 housing vouchers and more than $5.4 million to prevent or end homelessness among young adults under the age of 25 who are in, or have recently left, the foster care system without a home waiting for them.

Of course, HUD is not alone, as it coordinates with child welfare agencies to identify eligible youths. Every level of government is and must remain engaged.

To support this effort in Texas, the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) is working closely with FYI-eligible housing authorities to request their participation, and make vouchers available to young adults in transition from foster care and those who have left care — especially those who may be experiencing homelessness.

DFPS has worked hard to collaborate with community partners and local housing authorities. So far, DFPS has helped award 67 vouchers to help young adults secure housing. To help them through the housing application process, DFPS also has regional liaisons and Preparation for Adult Living (PAL) experts. They also stay in touch with local housing authorities.

For too long, former foster youths have been cast off into the shadows of our nation’s homelessness epidemic. We are determined that they be cast off no longer, especially as we continue to grapple with the harmful impacts of this pandemic.

Christopher Patterson, a former foster youth, is Regional Administrator for HUD’s Pacific Region and Secretary Carson’s national lead for FYI.

Michael Burley is HUD’s Regional Administrator for the Southwest, covering Texas and the four states that surround it.

Jaime Masters serves as Commissioner of the Department of Family and Protective Services for the State of Texas.

Christina Meredith, a former foster youth turned author-advocate, was formerly homeless before becoming Miss California and a sergeant in the National Guard.