With the rise of homeless foster youth due to the pandemic, it can be harrowing not knowing where to turn. Housing program donor lists are growing shorter and wait lists for housing are growing longer as the demand for housing for at-risk adolescents and young adults increases, along with the constant struggle to keep a roof over their heads, pay the bills, or just sleep in a warm, dry bed. Before Assembly Bill 12, also known as the California Fostering Connections to Success Act, many youth who had aged out of the system at 18 had few resources, and thus could fall prey to the sinister snare of exploitation.
When young and vulnerable populations don’t have access to the much needed safety and security of stable housing, they can be exposed to additional dangers. The risk factors that youth homelessness poses include lack of healthcare, lack of access to STD testing and treatment, discrimination and violence on those with oppressed identities, barriers to accessing gender-affirming treatment for transgender and non-binary youth, health conditions that arise from sleeping in hazardous conditions, lack of access to hygiene products, showers, and laundry, and the debilitating risk of addiction to alcohol and narcotic substances.
A ward of the court in the state of California can be eligible for some of the lesser-known housing programs such as Transitional Housing Placement Program (THPP), a court-appointed housing program for system-involved youth between the ages of 16 and 18, and Transitional Housing Program Plus (THP+), a housing program for youth who are between the ages of 18 and 24. As a former foster youth, I have the advantage of first-hand experience when it comes to navigating various THPP/THP+ programs. In the East Bay area of San Francisco, where I currently reside, there are at least eight such programs with each program’s eligibility rate differing slightly from the rest depending on the funding and licensing involved in that particular program.
When applying for transitional housing, many questions may arise. What are my expectations going into transitional housing? What would be the best fit for me? Would this program accommodate my service animal, or my child/ren? How many children am I allowed to have? Am I able to afford to pay rent/utilities if the program requires it? Am I able to fulfill my chosen program’s requirement to work and/or be enrolled in school for at least a certain set of hours a week, unless a medical condition prevents me or I’m actively working on removing barriers to work/employment? Can I live fully independent on my own in a scattered site program or do I need the supervision and guidance of live-in staff that single-site housing offers?
It took me three different traditional housing program placements to finally strike gold. I live in a scattered-site housing setting in an award-winning program in the East Bay. I attribute my current success in this model to remaining in constant communication with my assigned support team from the program and never hesitating to ask for help. Seriously, don’t be afraid to ask for help. There is no such thing as stupid questions when it comes to your support team. Take advantage of what they have to offer. Don’t hesitate to consult them, whether you need assistance in anything from as benign as a clogged toilet or as severe as a life-threatening emergency.
I am enrolled in school and enjoying it so far, especially the flexibility of the coursework and the golden opportunity to showcase the whimsicality of my artistic nature. I could be photoshopping obscene appendages onto Texan GOP politicians at one moment and writing an essay on the paradox of Eurocentric beauty standards and their colonial origins at the next. I am mere spitting distance away from being gainfully employed, but neither ancient civilizations nor my newfound independence were built in one day.
I would recommend THPP/THP+ eligible youth to take advantage of the array of resources that their attorneys and county social workers have to offer. Support personnel on a youth’s team can provide valuable insight on which housing program proves the best fit for the youth they are assigned to. Transitional housing isn’t only a roof of my own over my head. It’s also a “trial run” of 100% independent and unadulterated adulthood.