It all started with my failed adoption. I was 8 years old when I was first placed in the foster care system. I was placed in multiple foster homes and attended many adoption fairs, where adults literally walk around and pick out what kid they want. Finally, I was adopted at the age of 12. That adoption didn’t work out, landing me right back in the system.
As a teenager in foster care, it’s not so easy because you don’t get the care and attention a little kid would get. Because of that, foster homes were out of the picture for me. I was thrown from shelter to shelter, and eventually ended up living on the streets because the shelters only let me stay for up to 30 days. The system had no place for me to go. I know this is the case for many other foster youths. That is what the pipeline does. Foster youth end up homeless and surviving on the streets because they have no options. The option they did have was to sleep on the floor at the DSHS office, which is still homelessness to me.
Youth are continuously failed by the system that was supposed to keep them safe. The homelessness of foster youth often leads to incarceration, another system that does absolutely nothing to help. There are basic human needs that need to be met. I did whatever it took to meet those needs, which landed me in jail and prison. As a foster youth living on the streets, I was often reported as a runaway and constantly had a warrant out for my arrest because of it. I was being punished simply for taking care of myself when no one else would.
During my incarceration, I met many other youth and young adults who were also in the foster care system. Their stories were very similar to mine – they broke the law while trying to survive on their own. It seems to me that jail is used as a placement for foster youth, especially Black or brown foster youth. Once I was released from juvie, I went right back to downtown Seattle living on my own all over again. It was a continuous cycle. The foster care system grooms kids for prison because when I got there, I felt like I belonged. It sometimes felt better than being out in the community because I knew I had somewhere to sleep and three meals a day. Plus, I was surrounded by people who understood and accepted me.
Sometimes, youth are placed in foster homes where they get abused, or group homes where they aren’t getting what they need, so they leave and end up homeless as well. It’s very dangerous for youth out on the streets because they are constantly being exposed to violence, drugs, and many other unsafe behaviors. For example, I was in many situations where I could have lost my life. I couldn’t escape it because I had no safe place to go. It is very important that the state provides housing and resources for all foster youth that are available at any time.
The problem is that sometimes, there are just not enough foster homes or group homes. The shelters that are available for youth are usually at maximum capacity and are very short term with a maximum stay allowance of 30 to 60 days. Most of them are not even safe. During my very first experience at a shelter, I was introduced to drugs within the first hour. The amount of foster youth who turn to substance abuse is high. Homeless foster youth can be susceptible to drugs because the drugs can make it more tolerable to be out in the cold, to stay awake, and to feel something other than empty. I turned to drugs and alcohol myself to try and escape the depression of being unwanted, just like many others did too.
The preventative measure that needs to be taken is providing each high-risk foster youth with the resources and support they need – whether it’s a safe place to lay their head, a shirt to wear, and/or an advocate/mentor, preferably with lived experience, who can help guide them toward their goals and plans for the future – just like any other human being. This pipeline needs to end. It has gone on for far too long, and nobody deserves to be given up on.