For many Texans, their family, friends and neighbors came through during this month’s winter storms and the catastrophes that followed. These were support systems that literally saved lives and provided comfort and light in dark moments.
For former foster youth, those networks can be smaller, in some cases less reliable, or may not exist at all. And that leaves us to figure things out on their own.
I know how hard it can be to fend for yourself early on. I aged out of the Texas foster care system at 18 — one day supported and the next completely on my own. I’m lucky to have people like my aunt and a mentor to call on, but at 22, I’m still figuring things out.
During last week’s storm, I experienced my first power outage on my own. Unsure of what to do, I called my aunt and my mentor and did what I was told: light candles, put blankets at the bottom of the doors to keep the heat in, bundle up and call the power company — again and again.
As my apartment stayed dark and got colder, it became harder to have hope. My boyfriend and I put on three layers of socks, three sweaters, a jacket, a robe, three comforters and a hat but those were not enough to keep us warm in my frigid cold apartment.
We held candles to keep our hands and faces warm. We drank little water to avoid having to undress to use the bathroom. We’d done the responsible thing and stocked up on food before the storm. But even if the power had been on, we were too cold to cook. At this point, my phone was dead and it was inching closer to the 48 hour mark of being in this freezing holding cell. It was so cold that we could see our breath when we spoke.
I only have a couple of people I can turn to in these types of situations. As my teeth chattered in the dark, I wished I could have driven to one of their homes. But like many former foster youth, I don’t have a car. Everyone knows how hard it can be to cover the cost of a monthly car note on top of rent, bills and insurance. But in addition to not having financial support, current and former foster youth also have the added challenges of coming up with the necessary paperwork, supervised practice, and fees to even get a license.
That’s the thing about being in foster care. Everything is just a little bit harder, takes more time, takes more effort. It all adds up. We’re so busy struggling to get through the day-to-day that we’re completely unprepared for the emergencies that pop up. A once-in-a-generation storm and a global pandemic can have a devastating impact on our lives, but so can an illness, an unexpected bill, or car trouble.
So where do alumni of the foster care system turn in case of emergencies? The answer must be: to our community. We need the cities and towns we live in to make sure we have the resources we need to learn basic life skills and support networks to help us through these situations that are so new to us. We need emergency rental assistance and eviction protections. We need emergency lines dedicated to helping alumni of child welfare navigate the assistance that state and federal governments provide. And after last week, many of us in Texas and other states affected by this winter freeze will need long-term aid to make sure a couple days of bad weather don’t result in the loss of our homes, jobs or security.
As I’m writing this, my apartment is still cold and dark. Fortunately, my dad was able to venture out on the dangerous, icy roads, from Dallas to Fort Worth, to bring us to his home. I’m thankful to have some place to be. But I’ll always remember the hopelessness of sitting in the dark and dialing the number for the power company over and over again because I wasn’t sure what else to do. It’s on all of us to make sure that doesn’t happen for other young adults.