After I turned 18 in foster care in 2016, I became eligible for the Supervised Independent Living Placement (SILP) program, which is a form of direct cash assistance that goes to foster youth ages 18 to 21.
Access to these funds was the only reason I was able to afford housing during those years and I have since moved on to secure an apartment and live independently.
But the rental market has tightened since I left foster care, and housing affordability has become a crisis, especially in California’s biggest cities. The state moved last year to boost SILP rates for foster youth in response to these challenges, but I fear their efforts will be quickly rolled back if this new proposal goes into effect.
For context, over the summer, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a budget proposal that increased the monthly SILP rate to reflect the fair housing market value of apartments by county. For Los Angeles County, this would mean SILP payments would increase to $2,022 a month.
This was good news. But then I was dismayed to learn that the governor’s proposed budget, released last month, would do away with the boost in support for the SILP housing supplement program.
Governor Newsom’s proposed cut will have detrimental impacts on young people who already have very little social support, if any. SILP is the only support that goes directly to youth to assist them in obtaining safe and stable housing, and therefore it is the most critical.
Due to my circumstances as a former foster youth, I had no parents to cosign a lease for me or support me in securing a place to live. This meant I had to pay six months of rent, $10,430, up front to secure an apartment. Without the temporary financial security that SILP offered, I would have been homeless.
Not only are foster youth in extended care forced to contend with unreasonable housing requirements that further create inequity in our housing market, we also experience trauma and physiological stress in not knowing if our basic needs of food, health and wellness will be met. Having a guaranteed income like SILP is a tangible way to break cycles of generational poverty through a very practical approach. This model of support allows youth to build security and is a step toward promoting economic justice.
The elimination of the SILP supplement would put over 3,000 former foster youth who receive this aid in a compromised position, according to the John Burton Advocates for Youth 2023 SILP report. At the moment, the monthly rate for SILP is $1,129; the average rent for a studio apartment in Los Angeles, where I live, is $2,095.
Instead of cutting this new funding to youth in SILPs, Gov. Newsom should be doing more. Between the ages of 21 and 23, one quarter of foster youth surveyed in the CalYOUTH study experienced homelessness, with another 28% saying that they had “couch surfed.” This reflects that even after age 21 youth are still facing housing insecurity.
Supporting young people as they turn 18 with higher SILP rates will be a major game changer in shifting long-term outcomes of instability and dependency.
Shortly after I graduated UCLA at the start of the pandemic, I had no more income or assistance to support myself, so I had to rely on a portion of the SILP payments I had saved for emergencies, while in college. This sustained me through nearly two years of inconsistent employment until I was able to find a job that paid a livable wage.
Without this form of support, I would have undoubtedly experienced severe hardship in covering my basic needs, let alone being able to thrive. Today I have my bachelor’s degree, and help other current and former foster youth advocate for policy change as a coordinator with California Youth Connection.
I wouldn’t be here without the SILP. And as housing prices continue to skyrocket, we owe it to the thousands of 18- to 21-year-old youth on SILP today to have a chance to thrive. If Gov. Newsom backtracks on last year’s promise, he will be cutting a critical lifeline for foster youth, one that can effectively prevent homelessness.