By Alondra Conde and Ernesto Campos
According to Los Angeles County, nearly 2,822 youth, ages 18-24, are homeless in Los Angeles County, and almost half of the total were foster care youth who have aged out of the foster care system. However, this staggering number doesn’t capture the extent and severity of the homeless youth population because of the Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) categories that determine if a person is homeless; these categories include flee or attempting to flee domestic violence, homeless under other federal statutes, imminent risks of homelessness, and homeless; as a result of underestimating homeless youth, there is a lack of significant and practical resources available to address youth homelessness.
Society faces the grand challenge of ending youth homelessness. Youth experiencing homelessness endure a long-lasting, negative impact on their health and well-being. In addition, youth who have experienced homelessness may suffer from emotional or mental health problems, making it difficult for them to navigate and be successful in today’s environment. Because of the severity and long-lasting impact of homelessness, leaders of communities must collaborate with Los Angeles County officials and representatives to develop actionable policies that effectively address and reduce youth homelessness.
In Los Angeles County, the Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS) currently has several housing options specifically designed for young adults ages 18-24. These services include Transitional Housing Placement Programs for Non-minor Dependents (THPP-NMD), Supervised Independent Living Program (SILP), and housing through the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA). While these services help assist youth at risk of homelessness, one of their limitations is that young adults aren’t placed in these services until they reach 18; by that time, it’s sometimes too late. The SILP program also requires you to have someone willing to take you in and provide a home, e.g., a former foster parent, and often foster families are not willing to keep housing a foster youth after they turn 18 due to the trauma symptoms that they have presented with in the past.
One option for a possible policy change within the Department of Child and Family Services would be to identify foster youth aged 16 years old who would be at risk of homelessness when they transition to adulthood at 18 years old. DCFS could then assign them to a specific unit within the department designed to provide permanent housing for the youth, coaching services to teach essential life skills, and develop a specialized plan with the youth to prevent homelessness and build connections that could help the youth be successful. Due to their history in multiple homes and other trauma experiences, foster youth often mistrust new service providers and take time to build trust before they can work collaboratively toward making changes in their lives.
Engaging with foster youth is a complex process that only gets even more complex when considering intersectionality with other marginalized populations. Foster youth face many challenges and have many unique needs when you take race, religion, sexual orientation, and gender identity into account. The challenges illuminate the necessity for services that will consider all these factors and work to create an individualized care plan to build up the necessary skills they will need once they turn 18. With these services starting earlier, they will be able to gain the skills and be prepared to live independently once they reach adulthood.
Ernesto Campos is a local resident of the North San Fernando Valley with 14 years experience working with at risk youth in Los Angeles County. Alondra Conde is also a long-time resident of the San Fernando Valley and is an intern providing basic needs linkages and resources to transitional age youth.