It’s evident that young adults, especially in Santa Barbara, face a unique set of challenges regarding the cost of housing and education. These challenges are all but minimized when an individual is in the process of leaving the foster care system. Young adults past the age of 18 are no longer able to stay in juvenile housing. This means that on their 18th birthday, they are at risk of being dropped off at a homeless shelter. Understandably, this adjustment of moving into a program with individuals of various ages and a lack of specialized care for their particular needs is often harsh and overwhelming. With adult programs already lacking adequate bed space, young adults exiting the foster care system have to compete to acquire appropriate housing with a much larger population. People between the ages of 18 and 26 experience a number of life changes, so it is only logical that they should receive a specialized style of housing and care to reflect this.
One in four youth exiting the foster care system in California become homeless.
The pairing of a lack of accessible housing and the elevated cost of a higher education has left a number of young adults in insufficient and taxing housing conditions, sometimes having to live in their car or sleep on a friend’s couch. Those who are exiting the foster care system are increasingly vulnerable to threats like homelessness and human trafficking at this time in their life. Ideally, the foster care system is supposed to provide individuals with a supportive and stable placement, but it’s well known that this isn’t always the case. A poor placement, especially one where someone is consistently moved from home to home, can often leave a person with unresolved traumatic experiences and without a genuine sense of support or love in their lives.
The Foundation House
Although Santa Barbara hosts a variety of career and educational opportunities and is home to a large number of young adults, it is only home to one transitional age housing program, The Foundation House. The home actually consists of three separate houses with enough room to house 12 participants, but only five beds are currently in use. The Turner Foundation, in partnership with My Home, opened up the home last month in July and aims to support young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 in unstable living situations. The Foundation House provides its participants with employment connections and works closely with SBCC to offer academic support.
I spoke with Mavel Tortoledo, who is the Director of Youth and Community Programs at The Turner Foundation. It was inspiring to learn about the support that The Foundation House has received from the Santa Barbara community so far. When discussing the process of getting the program started, Mavel explained, “Everything has happened pretty quickly, but has also lined up, which tells us this is a need.” The Foundation House has received a great deal of support from Ocean Hills Church and Living Faith Church. They also work to refer employment for these youths.
When asked what would be important for the community to know about The Foundation House, Mavel replied, “People need to be reminded that things are not going to go 100% well. There are issues, but we’re providing that support to each participant in their own way and not immediately thinking ‘it’s not gonna work out, they can’t be here.” She continued, “That’s something they’ve experienced. It’s been a cycle of trauma. Knowing that there are going to be bumps, but that consistency and structure goes a long way.” Even though there may not always be perfect outcomes, that doesn’t mean that programs aren’t making positive and impactful changes in a person’s life.
A Lack of Affordable Housing
Another challenge that exists for participants at The Foundation House is finding affordable housing when exiting the program. Mavel explained, “Housing is expensive anyway, but many landlords are not okay with taking a stipend from a foster youth.” After completing the program and making progress towards their goals, foster youth are then faced with another barrier which stems from the stigma of having been in the foster care system. Naturally, In order for transitional housing to truly be successful, there needs to be affordable housing for individuals after they are ready to leave the program. It’s clear that there is a need for a shift in the community’s priorities and attitudes surrounding foster youth stigma and housing.
Limited and Inaccessible Housing Assistance Programs
On a state-wide level, changes must also be made in regards to extending foster youths eligibility for housing assistance programs, such as Transitional Housing Program Plus (THP+). Youth who exit the foster care system before they turn 18 are not eligible for THP+. In the last year, 170 youth in California attempted to access their THP+ who exited care prior to age 18, therefore making them ineligible to benefit from the programs. This issue is also present for foster youth needing to access assistance programs in college. For example, the NextUp program, which aids in providing books and supplies, transportation, tutoring, food and emergency housing to students at California Community Colleges is only available to youth that have been in foster care at least until the age of 16. Additionally, THP+ is only available to former foster youth up until the age of 24, however 25 counties have opted to extend these services. For youth, the requirements and limitations of these programs act as an additional barrier to receiving help from a system that has often failed them previously.
An additional area in need of change is the availability of specialized care and resources in transitional age housing programs for parenting and LGBTQ+ youth. Due to a lack of funding and space, transitional age housing programs don’t often provide resources that meet all of the needs of pregnant and parenting or LGBTQ+ adults. Because of discrimination, harassment, and violence that exists in many shelter environments, many LGBTQ+ homeless young adults desire to remain on the street or in unideal housing situations. To help address this issue, housing programs should dedicate beds to and have supportive programs for LGBTQ+ young adults. Parenting youth also face a unique set of challenges. A total of 657 children resided with a parent participating in transitional housing programs in California between 2019 and 2020. Research has shown that parenting young adults struggle to achieve the same positive outcomes when they exit a program than non-parenting young adults. In addition, they must face the financial difficulty of having the same THP+ rate as non-parenting youth. Pregnant and parenting youth should have access to parenting classes, home visiting services, and a higher THP+ rate.
Santa Barbara’s demanding cost for housing and education has left young people homeless and without support. It is apparent that Santa Barbara’s youth would benefit from additional transitional housing programs that could provide a safe environment and educational and career support. However, less than half of the beds are currently filled at the only transitional age housing program. The Foundation House, is clear that spreading awareness about this amazing resource at local colleges, or through doing street outreach is crucial. Foster youth in Santa Barbara deserve the community’s wholehearted and consistent support.
If you know someone between the ages of 18 and 24 that is unhoused and may be interested in participating in the program at The Foundation House, call (805) 881-1644 or email @tffoundationhouse.