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Program targets young adults leaving foster care system

Wave Staff and Wire Reports

LOS ANGELES — A program intended to help Angelenos at risk of eviction with resources is being expanded to assist young adults leaving foster care, Mayor Karen Bass has announced.

We Are LA, operated by the Mayor’s Fund for Los Angeles — a nonprofit organization associated with City Hall — will now connect former foster youth with services related to employment, financial education and other areas.

The Mayor’s Fund will partner with Children’s Law Center of California and the RightWay Foundation for these services.

“Homelessness impacts people with experience in the foster care system at a disproportionate rate to their peers, which is why today’s announcement is so important,” Bass said July 8.

“The Mayor’s Fund’s We Are LA program is expanding again to serve young adults aging out of the foster care system. We know that we cannot solve this crisis with housing alone — we also need services tailored to the specific needs of those who want to come inside.

“These critical services and opportunities for stable housing for Angelenos leaving foster care will further our efforts to prevent people from falling into homelessness in the first place.”

When a foster youth turns 18 or 21, they are cut off from all support and left to fend for themselves, according to Bass’ office. At least 30% of former foster youth become homeless or incarcerated within two years of leaving the foster system.

“These young people are at risk of becoming chronically homeless, and we need to make sure they don’t,” Conway Collis, president and CEO of Mayor’s Fund for Los Angeles, said in a statement. “As a state, these are our children. We have to help them in the same way we help our own children and grandchildren.”

The We Are LA program connects Angelenos at risk of eviction with resources available to them and stay in their homes or other stable housing. Program caseworkers screen and connect participants to programs they already qualify for such as CalFresh, MediCal, child care assistance and earned tax credits.

Approximately 60% of the individuals and families in the program have received stable housing and many others are still working through the process, Bass’ office noted.

The We Are LA Children and Youth program will extend this same model to youth exiting foster care, pairing each young person aging out of the system with a trained caseworker who has been in the foster care system themselves to connect them to available resources and to help them secure housing.

“Through ongoing resources and case management, young people will have the safety net and support we all need to be prepared for the inevitable but still unanticipated bumps in the road and curveballs that life may throw our way,” said Leslie Starr, executive director of the Children’s Law Center of California.

Annissa Jimenez, a caseworker at the RightWay Foundation, shared her experience of being homeless after leaving the foster care system. She went five years without permanent housing until she received help at RightWay. 

“Leaving foster care is hard,” Jimenez said. “Being in foster care is hard, too. It doesn’t prepare you to live on your own. What we’re doing here is so important: helping young people find housing, jobs, and the other assistance they need to move into stable, healthy adult lives.”

“It wasn’t until I was housed that I could finish high school — which was one of my first accomplishments — get a job, keep a job and get a car,” said Mercedes Jackson, a client of the National Foster Youth Institute. “I started to feel really good about myself. It’s amazing how being housed can help all of these other areas that don’t seem connected to housing and even helps with your mental health.”

To address homelessness generally, Los Angeles is working to confront the policies that lead to causes of homelessness within the child welfare system, the criminal justice system, the mental health and addiction treatment system, and more.

The Mayor’s Fund for Los Angeles brings together business, philanthropy, the nonprofit sector and local government to address the most urgent needs of all Angelenos. We Are LA connects Angelenos at risk of eviction with resources available to help them stay in their homes or otherwise stabilize their housing. 

Approximately 60% of the individuals and families the program has served report stable housing, with many others still working through the process.

Photo by Lorenzo Gomez

       
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