Survey results released Wednesday by advocates for New York City’s older foster youth laid bare how the coronavirus pandemic has intensified their already desperate struggles for housing:
One young person reported “staying with a friend,” and being “basically homeless.” Another reported “living from couch to couch.” A third had been in college, but ended up homeless because they lost campus housing.
Now, with the new delta variant raging, resistance to vaccinations is still prevalent and the state’s eviction moratorium is due to end next month, potentially leaving hundreds of youth who “age out” of the foster care system each year to lead ever-more precarious lives.
“For some youth in foster care, the pandemic lockdown cut them off from essential, stabilizing services. School closures forced students online, and in some cases, took away their place to live,” described the report released Wednesday by the Fostering Youth Success Alliance, a coalition of research groups and social service organizations.
Based on a survey earlier this year of 209 foster youth statewide, the report describes housing as the youths’ top concern: “It became harder for them to reach their caseworkers, academic advisors, and therapists. Some lost jobs and were unsure if they qualified for unemployment benefits or stimulus checks.”
The survey of young adults ages 18 to 26 was conducted online in January and most respondents were young women and people of color. The survey included questions about the pandemic’s impact on housing, health care, education, financial status, food security and attitudes and anxiety levels.
In New York, 25% of youth respondents faced or feared housing instability, and 66% reported heightened anxiety.
Roughly three-fourths of youth in New York who had previously been enrolled in school had continued studying during the pandemic. More than 20% paused their studies altogether. Students living alone were twice as likely to report issues with lack of equipment, including laptops and WiFi, the report found.
One in 3 survey respondents reported the pandemic’s negative effect on employment, including being laid off, needing to leave a job to do a residence change, or losing gig hours. Nearly 1 in 4 respondents also reported some level of food insecurity, including skipping a meal or running out of food.
“This research is really essential. While it tells us many things we already know about the foster care system and young people, it really contributes to what we know about the urgency now,” said Julia Davis, director of youth justice and child welfare for the Children’s Defense Fund’s New York chapter. Davis and other prominent city advocates spoke at Wednesday’s event, the second of four webinars focused on understanding and addressing the priorities of New York City’s foster youth in the aftermath of COVID-19.
The report also included some of the voices of hundreds of youth in distress who responded to the Success Alliance survey:
“I’m in a shelter in Manhattan. I was kicked out by my mom in North Carolina.”
“I might have to move out because I’m currently pregnant.”
“I live in a foster home and I’m currently struggling to get supportive housing.”
A temporary housing crisis can have a lasting negative impact on youth in foster care, in part by derailing studies while they look for somewhere to crash, said Yolanda McBride, director of public policy at the foster care nonprofit Children’s Aid Society, host of Wednesday’s virtual event.
“These life disruptions are incredibly stressful for young adults, and can limit future employment opportunities and earning potential for years to come,” she said.
Over the past year, the federal government and the state Legislature have approved many new housing and cash supports specifically for foster youth, but most have been limited to recipients only during the pandemic public health crisis.
Permanent fixes to the longer-term housing woes of New York City foster youth proposed by the Success Alliance include connecting more young adults to the federal Foster Youth to Independence program, and expanding “Rapid Re-housing” programs that include supportive services. Advocates Wednesday expressed hope that the state Legislature will revisit a bill that failed to pass through both houses of the Legislature last year that would have doubled monthly housing subsidies for youth aging out of foster care from $300 to $600.
They also want the City Council to approve a bill allowing these young people to count their time in foster care as “time in shelter,” in order to qualify for a separate city-funded housing voucher program.
Those vouchers — known as the City Fighting Homelessness and Eviction Prevention Supplement — cover monthly rent exceeding 30% of household income, up to $1,954 for a one-bedroom apartment or $2,217 for a two-bedroom apartment. The City Council voted this year to dramatically increase the availability of the vouchers to reach all eligible New Yorkers. But tragically, many foster youth aging out of the system have to demonstrate homelessness in order to qualify — in some cases by entering adult homeless shelters.
At a City Council hearing in November, one young mother said she was denied supportive housing after leaving foster care because she had a child. She described the experience of landing in a shelter as “disruptive and scary,” and all-too common for youth who believe that is their only option to qualify for certain public benefits.
A representative from the office of Brooklyn City Councilmember Stephen Levin’s office said she was optimistic that the long-debated reform eliminating that requirement for foster youth would be approved this year, with little opposition.
“The idea of allowing youth aging out of foster care to get their vouchers immediately without having to initially enter an adult shelter,” said legislative director Nicole Hunt. “I don’t know how you fight that hard against that.”