Sunday, May 20, 2018

Time for ACTION to end the Foster Care to Homeless Pipeline

Youth who age out of foster care face many challenges during our transition to young adulthood – but our greatest challenges are related to housing. When you don’t know where you are going to sleep tonight, this makes it harder to succeed when it comes higher education and employment.

The Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness was our nation’s first-ever comprehensive federal plan to prevent and end homelessness. It was presented to Congress on June 22, 2010.

The idea behind it was that change would take place in the following order:
1.) End chronic homelessness by 2015
2.) End Veterans homelessness by 2015
3.) End homelessness among families, children and youth by 2020
4.) Set a path to ending all types of homelessness by 2020

It's strange that, from the very beginning, the mission of ending youth homelessness was ranked so low a priority on the timeline.  Why and how could ending chronic homelessness precede ending homelessness for youth?. 

If you look at homelessness as an overflowing bathtub – why not try to turn off the faucet first?   Our young people are Ready to Launch into adulthood.  If we don't help them now, they are likely to become chronically homeless later.

Obviously, 2015 has passed, and chronic homelessness has not been alleviated. 

They have since separated out:
  • Ending homelessness for unaccompanied youth under 25  
  • Ending homelessness among families with children
So, what's their plan to end homelessness for unaccompanied youth under 25 by 2020?

It looks like this. 

Click to enlarge

It's a data strategy, rather than an action strategy. Their plan is highly based on point-in-time counts, numbers and data -- which, when it comes to youth aging out of foster care, they already have.

Chapin Hall research has demonstrate that one in five foster care alumni report being homeless for some period of time after emancipating from foster care. Without investment, the cycle will continue: 1 in 4 homeless adults is a former foster child.

Likewise when it comes to transitional youth, they also have the data.

If the below diagram was their preliminary vision back in 2010, then how has it evolved since then?  And how involved have homeless youth and young adults been in shaping that plan?

Click to enlarge.


12 years later...

Sweet surprise at my foster parent training on Friday - from a young person in foster care that I met and gave books to back in 2006. He still has the books.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Thousand People of Genoa Project

It's been a weird week, with car problems and what not. Then, I go to work and discover that I've been chosen for second part of the Thousand People of Genoa project.
The intention was to capture 1,000 portraits of the people in Columbus, which will all be exhibited in Genoa next year. Photographer Timothy Costa said he wanted to celebrate “the warmth and kindness of the people of Columbus.” So, that was pretty sweet of him.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Lisa Dickson's federal testimony on the Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

United States House of Representatives
House Committee on Financial Services
Subcommittee on Housing and Insurance

Proponent testimony on:
The Amended Version of H.R. 2069, the Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act

Chairman Duffy, Vice Chairman Ross, Ranking Member Cleaver, and members of the committee,

Thank you for this opportunity to offer testimony on the amended version of H.R. 2069, the Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act.

My name is Lisa Dickson. As a former foster youth, I wish that I could be there in person to share how much this matters, and the potential this bill has to improve outcomes after foster care. More importantly, I wish you could hear directly from the young people themselves, in and from foster care, who have worked for six years to make this bill a reality.

I am contacting you on behalf of two volunteer organizations. The OHIO Youth Advisory Board serves as the statewide voice of foster care youth, ages 14 and older. ACTION Ohio is an alumni group of adults who experienced foster care personally, and who dedicate our time to improve outcomes for the next generation. Our two groups have been working together since 2006 to make a difference, side-by-side.

Young people enter foster care due to factors outside of their control, such as experiencing neglect, abuse or disconnection from a parent to due to death, incarceration or substance abuse challenges. As foster youth, we do not choose the family that we are born into - we can only make our own choices. In the midst of family upheaval, all we can do is seek to survive the moment at hand, and figure out how to build our future. We often feel alone in this struggle - especially when throughout the nation, over 20,000 youth “age out” of the system every year, and strive to build successful lives.

Leaving home and moving out on your own as a young adult is a milestone that many young people look forward to. But for young people in foster care, this experience often catapults them into an immediate struggle for survival. We want to attain self-sufficiency, and the most important and pressing question is: “Where am I going to live?”  Having a stable residence is critical when it comes to pursuing employment and higher education. 
Imagine being a teen in foster care who is getting ready to enter into young adulthood. You have no savings account, and no parental co-signer to move into an apartment. You worked really hard to get into college, but the dorms are closed on holiday breaks - so, the irony is that while everyone else is celebrating with their family, you don’t know where you are going to sleep that night.

I don’t have to imagine that, because I was one of those young people. When I aged out of foster care in 1989, there was no plan for my future. I had to figure out that path on my own. Thanks to support from an Admissions Counselor at the University of Kentucky named Randy Mills, I entered college at 16 years old. But I ended up homeless within a year. I continued to pursue college, even as I struggled to find an affordable place to live. I found a home in a Methodist dorm called the Wesley Foundation. With stable housing, I was able to complete college and graduate school, working up to five part-time jobs at a time.  Since then, I’ve been working as a full-time librarian for 19 years. It’s my honor to work hard, pay taxes, and seek to “pay it forward” for the next generation.

But that was back in 1989 – so why is the Foster Care to Homeless Pipeline still so prevalent today?  Our nation has moved forward in so many other areas since the time when I was in foster care. The 1997 Adoption and Safe Families Act set a time limit for how long children should languish in foster care limbo before seeking to terminate parental rights. The 1999 Foster Care Independence Act established Chafee funding and independent living classes. The 2008 Fostering Connections Act provided states with the option to extend foster care supports until age 21.

And yet, housing remains the biggest missing piece after foster care. Research demonstrates the pervasiveness of this struggle. Chapin Hall’s longitudinal Midwest research study reveals that 36% of former foster youth experience homelessness before turning 26 years old. In a recent national survey conducted by Child Trends, states were asked to report the primary area in which they could do better to support young people transitioning from foster care. Not surprisingly, housing was the area most commonly marked as in need of improvement.

We have the numbers, and we have the data - what our nation needs is a sense of urgency about this problem. While children are in foster care, the Children’s Bureau measures each states’ success in caring for them by three categories: Safety, Permanence and Well-Being. But if we care about the safety of our children, it should matter to us that when they “age out” into homelessness, they are at risk of trafficking and many other negative outcomes. If we care about permanence, we need to recognize that there is nothing more impermanent than not having a stable address. If we care about well being, then we need to acknowledge the dreams, talents and aspirations of our youth – and that helping them successfully launch into adulthood benefits not only them personally, but also our nation. Given the chance to contribute to society, please know that we can and will give back.

The Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act is thoughtful and intentional. It is based on the premise that we already know where teens in foster care are placed, and that we can connect them with existing housing supports by putting them on the list early. This bill is youth-driven in every sense — because the very reason it exists is that a volunteer group of Ohio foster youth and alumni have been fundraising locally and then traveling to D.C. to advocate for the past six years about the national gap that exists between foster care and housing.

We are not lobbyists or paid staff members. We are current and former foster youth ourselves - and this is an issue that deeply matters to us. We demonstrate how much we care by volunteering our time to help others. Even as we travel to D.C. annually to advocate for this need, on a volunteer basis, we each continue to pursue work, college and opportunities to give back to the community - because that’s what matters most to each of us. Our goal is to work hard, move forward and care for the next generation.

I urge you to pass this bill. The price tag is literally nothing. This is no-cost opportunity to improve outcomes for my brothers and sisters in and from foster care.

Thank you for your time. Please know that I am and will remain available for any questions.

Lisa Dickson
Alumni of Care Together Improving Outcomes Now

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Committee to Address Youth Experiencing Homelessness

In 2017, Columbus was selected to participate in a 100-Day Challenge to Address Youth Homelessness by A Way Home America, a non-profit organization that creates transformative and sustained impact on tough societal challenges.

Subsequently, the Ohio Department of Development has assembled a Committee to Address Youth Experiencing Homelessness. Committee members include representatives from the Community Shelter Board, CMHA, Huckleberry House, Star House, Capital Law School, the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, Buckeye Ranch, Maryhaven, and YMCA Columbus.

Their focus is: 
  • Unaccompanied youth under age 25 experiencing homelessness, with a focus on providing interventions for young people 14 to 24.

Their draft mission statement is:
  • To plan, develop and oversee a community-wide system that effectively provides a safe place to call home for all unaccompanied youth under age 25 every day.

One of their goals is:
  • To develop a System Map in order to identify providers and entities that target or assist youth 18-24, and to better understand how the client pathway to receive resources works. 

Contact Person 
Mr. Kim Stands, Human Services Coordinator
Department of Development
50 W. Gay St. 4th Floor, Columbus, OH 43215
Desk: 614.645.7571
Cell: 614.216.9397

Oregon initiative to recruit Host Homes

Youth who are “new” to our streets
are more likely to become chronically homeless
if we do not intervene within 15 nights.

The 15th Night is a community-wide partnership that helps more than 300 Oregon youth who are navigating school and life alone, without a permanent place to spend the night. 

Bringing together existing community resources, the 15th Night focuses these resources on the safety and well-being of vulnerable youth who do not have a parent or guardian to support them.

In coordination with The 15th Night, A Family For Every Child will be providing three services to the 15th Night network: mentoring, family finding, and host homes. AFFEC has been providing mentoring and family finding for a decade, but host homes are a new program created to fill the housing gap in their community.

Supports provided to Host Homes
"Housing providers are not allotted monthly stipends for supporting the youth and they assume a parental role in the relationship. However, the pair will be supported throughout the duration of their match by AFFEC and the 15th Night network. By being connected to the network, AFFEC can help youth get their Oregon ID, food stamps, clothing vouchers, and other necessities. It is not expected that those taking youth into their homes will take on a heavy financial burden when providing this service."

Host Home provider MUST have:

  • An available, private bedroom for the youth that has a bed, a window, and space for them to store their belongings.
  • At least one adult, age 26+, who permanently resides in the home.
  • Smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors.
  • Either renters or house insurance.
  • An economically stable living situation.

Application Process:

  1. Fill out a volunteer application. If you are looking at the form and Host Home is not listed, fill out the mentor portion of the application and indicate that you are applying for Host Homes.
  2. Complete a background check and pass a sex offender registry check.
  3. Pass a reference check. You will provide 3 references in your volunteer application that the program director will contact individually.
  4. Have a homestudy completed. This involves a member of the AFFEC staff asking you a series of questions and touring your home.
  5. Complete the orientation period.

For more information, please contact:
Emma Stahl
Permanency Director (541) 343-2856
1675 W 11th Ave. Eugene, OR 97402

Click to enlarge

One in 10 young adults, ages 18-25 years old experience homelessness

Adolescence and young adulthood represent a key developmental window. 
Every day of housing instability and the associated stress represents a 
missed opportunity to support healthy development and transitions to productive adulthood. 

 As a nation, we are missing opportunities to ensure that all young people can reach their full

potential and contribute to stronger communities and economies across the country.

Did you know that: 
  • One in 10 young adults 18-25 years old experience homelessness?  (3.5 million)

This new report Missed Opportunities from Voices of Youth Count, an initiative of Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago, is the first in a series aimed at shining a spotlight on the quiet but enormous crisis of unaccompanied youth homelessness in America.

The study — also published in the Journal of Adolescent Health — captures youth homelessness broadly, including sleeping on the streets, in shelters, running away, being kicked out, and couch surfing. 
Homeless youth are at risk of hunger, poor health outcomes, physical violence, rape, and sexual exploitation.

Click to enlarge

Thursday, January 25, 2018

The Florida Project - Loved the Movie, Hated the Ending

This movie was mesmerizing. It wasn't like watching a movie - it was like walking into the characters' lives, and walking around side by side with them.
The acting was exceptional, including one of the most realistic child actresses I've ever seen. It's amazing that the woman who plays the mom had no prior acting experience.
Quote from one of the reviews about the character of the mother: 
  • "The background of abuse comes off her like a scent. The heartbreak is that she's doing everything she can to break free from it - showing her daughter the love she never got - and repeating the pattern at the same time."

Monday, January 22, 2018

Community coming together to help

Jewish Family Services will oversee a fund on behalf of the 11-year-old and his mother, who are homeless.

Public reaches out to homeless boy, mom
Price, Rita. The Columbus Dispatch, Jan. 19, 2018.

A local social-services agency is coordinating efforts to help an 11-year-old homeless boy whose extraordinary reading habits and positive outlook drew the attention of Downtown librarians and touched the hearts of Dispatch readers.

A Sunday story about Mackintosh Williams and his mom, Ester Campbell, prompted many to ask how to best assist the family with housing, employment and educational needs. Dozens wrote or called with offers of aid such as cash, more books and rent for a furnished apartment.

“Thank you for highlighting this bright young boy who is wise beyond his years,” one reader said in an email. “Is there a fund set up for him and his mother to help them get back on their feet? If not, what can interested readers do to help them?”

Jewish Family Services staff members met with Campbell this week and will oversee a fund on behalf of her and Mackintosh. He and his mom have been staying in a West Side shelter but spend much of their spare time at the Columbus Metropolitan Library’s main Downtown site, where Mackintosh can feed his passion for science fiction.

Campbell’s struggle to recover from job loss, eviction and homelessness is familiar to too many families in central Ohio and throughout the nation, said June Gutterman, CEO of Jewish Family Services.

“This is the income divide,” she said. “This is the story of our economic world right now.”

Campbell, 32 and a former foster youth, said she’s overwhelmed by the interest and outreach. “I’m really, really appreciative and grateful,” she said. “And I know Mackintosh is as well. Everything’s a blessing.”

She and Mackintosh came to Columbus last month from New York City in hopes of connecting with a family member who had moved to the Midwest. They also had been in the shelter system in New York, where they were moved to a different site every 10 days.

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, more than a quarter of all homeless families with children last year were in the state of New York.

Mackintosh, an “old soul” who loves nothing more than reading and reviewing books, had an especially hard time in the New York City system, Campbell said. “A lot of the kids are rough; they feel like they have to be,” she said. “Mackintosh is not like that.”

She and Mackintosh like Columbus and want to stay. She’s interviewing for jobs and hopes to find an apartment soon.

“The homeless epidemic is so bad,” Campbell said. “It’s so humbling that people here haven’t forgotten the forgotten.”

The fund is solely for the benefit of Mackintosh and his mom, Gutterman said. To donate by regular mail, make checks payable to Jewish Family Services and specify the Campbell/Mackintosh Williams fund in the memo. Send donations to Jewish Family Services, 1070 College Ave., Columbus, OH 43209. To contribute online, go to and designate the “Campbell and Mackintosh Fund” on the form. Those with questions may call Jewish Family Services at 614-231-1890.

Mackintosh on the cover of the Dispatch

Mackintosh Williams shows some of his favorite books in the room he shares with his mother at the YMCA's Van Buren Shelter on the West Side. The homeless 11-year-old science-fiction fan writes book reviews and recommendations, the latest of which sit on a shelf in the Columbus Metropolitan Library's Main Children's Area

Book Ambassador
Homeless boy immerses self in reading to focus on the positive
Price, Rita. The Columbus Dispatch, Jan. 13, 2018

No book stays at the top of his list for long. Mackintosh Williams, also known as “Sci Fi Guy,” reads at a pace too furious for him to maintain anything more than a fleeting ranking of best-loved stories.

“I don’t really have favorites, because there’s always something new,” he said.

Instead, the 11-year-old writes reviews and recommendations, the latest of which sit on a shelf in the children’s area of the Columbus Metropolitan Library’s main site Downtown. Library employees made several copies of the “Official Sci Fi Guy Suggestions by Mackintosh Williams” and happily gave him the green light to arrange a display of books from his beloved science-fiction genre.

“A lot of kids will talk about books, but he’s like an ambassador of books,” said children’s librarian Lisa Dickson. “When he came in here, he just knocked my socks off. He’s incredibly intelligent.”

Mackintosh moves about the big library with purpose and ease, like a kid who really, really wants to be there. He loves the space and the light and the computers. But he can’t stand the pain that crosses his mother’s face whenever they talk about the other reason for coming so often.

When people are homeless,” Mackintosh said, “they feel over-pressured.”

 In his mom, he sees a daily battle to keep faith and determination from being swamped by frustration and sadness. In some of the other kids at the homeless shelter, he sees misdirected anger and outbursts, like the other day when a handful of boys pelted him with wads of wet paper.

“I try to avoid problems, but it’s like problems are running after me,” Mackintosh said.

They have a harder time catching him when he reads. Mackintosh immerses himself in tales of robot armies and alien hordes, golden capes and galactic hot dogs. He checks out stacks of books at a time and stows them carefully in the spare, windowless room he and his mom share at the YMCA Van Buren Center, a large shelter on the West Side with separate areas for men, women and families with children.

Sixty-eight families, including 130 children, were living in the shelter — one of two family shelters in the city — as of Wednesday.

“This is one moment in time,” Shameikia Smith, a senior director at Van Buren, said she wants the kids to believe. “This is not your whole life. This is a chapter.”

Mackintosh does his best to keep up hope. In the meantime, he turns to other narratives.

“When you’re reading a book, no one knows where you live,” Dickson said. “You live in that story.”

Mackintosh Williams, 11, carries an armful of books to fill out the display featuring his top science-fiction picks in the Columbus Metropolitan Library's Main Children's Area.

Seeking a new star
Ester Campbell, Mackintosh’s mom, has known hardship much of her life. “My dad was addicted to drugs, and my mom passed away,” she said. “I grew up in the system. But I still wanted to instill the proper values in Mackintosh. I knew he wasn’t your average child.”

Mackintosh walked early, talked early and barely had to be taught to read. He seemed to quickly grasp the difference between right and wrong, and relished taking a stand. “He has a moral compass,” said Campbell, 32. “The fact that he wants for others what he wants for himself makes him a beautiful person. Adults can learn from children.”

She and Mackintosh came to Columbus from New York City, where she had again fallen into homelessness, this time after losing a security job and failing in attempts to halt an eviction. Although she found more work in New York, the pay wasn’t great. Campbell felt exhausted by fruitless searches for an affordable place of their own. The chaos of temporary housing — first in a motel, then the shelter system — seemed never to give way.

“They put us someplace different every 10 days,” Campbell said.

She and Mackintosh packed up and boarded a bus to central Ohio last month in hopes of finding and reconnecting with an estranged sister who also had moved to the area. That hasn’t proved easy, and in any event, “our short-term goal has to be for us to get out of the shelter and for him to go to a great school,” Campbell said. “He’s so bright.”

Campbell enrolled Mackintosh in an elementary on the West Side, but she pulled him out and decided to look for a different school after he said he was severely bullied.

“It was just unbelievable, all the problems,” Mackintosh said. “Another child hit me in my mouth and pushed some of my teeth back. People like violence, I guess, but violence should never be the choice.”

Overwhelmed as they are, Campbell and Mackintosh say they draw strength from their faith. Campbell’s birth mother was Jewish. “And I always wanted to feel closer to her,” she said. “So I began to embrace the Torah.”

Surrendering to despair isn’t an option. “Sometimes I just want to go into a corner and ball up and cry and scream,” Campbell said. “But you can’t afford to be weak, because your child is looking at you.”

Finding ways to laugh
As Laurie MacGillivray conducted research at family homeless shelters in Los Angeles and Memphis, she marveled at families who, while seemingly everything around them had fallen apart, managed to maintain or develop good literacy habits.

They read religious texts, passed notes across the dinner table, studied flashcards, discussed good books.

“When mothers and children were looking for ways to normalize their lives, reading was a good way to do it,” said MacGillivray, a literacy expert and professor at the University of Memphis. “Reading lends stability. It also can be a way to create privacy, because often, if you’re living in a shelter, you don’t have much.”

And reading can help homeless children — for whom so many typical activities and possessions are beyond reach — level a field. “There’s no one saying, ‘Oh, you can’t read this book because you’re homeless,’” MacGillivray said.

A kid such as Mackintosh might be exceptional, but he’s not unique in his desire to hone an interest that is his no matter what. “Every time a homeless child goes into a new school or a new environment — and I know kids who change schools more than four times a year — they have to redefine themselves,” MacGillivray said. “If he already has his area of expertise, he’s ahead of the game.”

Over a year, more than 250,000 children in the United States will have stayed at a homeless shelter, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness. Nearly 2,500 children were served in Columbus homeless shelters during the most-recent fiscal year.

Even those who fare well wind up with scars.

“The fact is, by the time a family has experienced homelessness, they have faced some devastating consequences,” said Michelle Heritage, executive director of the Community Shelter Board. “We should say, as a country and a community, that no child should be homeless. Period.”

Resilient as they are, kids often succeed in finding ways to laugh and play and learn outside their worst experiences. Mackintosh isn’t terribly daunted. He doesn’t complain about having to watch shows on his mom’s phone instead of a television, or pine for a real piano, or pout when Campbell has to say that, yes, $12 is too much for them to spend on a notebook.

He knows she doesn’t like to deny him things. “I want you to be on the news,” Mackintosh said suddenly, “as the most-beautiful woman in the world!”

Campbell playfully shoos him along. Mackintosh zooms toward the middle of the children’s area, where he scopes a few books before sitting at a computer station. In addition to writing his book reviews, he’s been working on creating a game.

“The angels come at the end,” he said. “They help you and heal you.”

Mackintosh Williams shows some of his top science-fiction picks, flanked by his mother, Ester Campbell, and Children's Librarian Lisa Dickson

Saturday, September 02, 2017

Lisa is an Erickson fan :)

I personally am a big fan of the usefulness of Erickson’s theory in relationship to foster care youth/alumni, particularly when it comes to the “Intimacy vs. Isolation” stage.
  • Erikson Stage 6: Intimacy vs. Isolation relates directly to the transitional stage of foster care.
  • The social task of the young adult (within this model) is to create strong, long-lasting bonds of friendship and love. Those that fail in this task risk remaining isolated for the rest of their lives.
  • The ability to relate to other people is affected by personal exposure to trauma. This impact is felt most deeply in an intimate relationship but also has a “ripple effect” that affects every other relationship in that person’s life.
  • Research demonstrates that adults with the highest rate of broken relationships are those who shy away from emotional investment, reject any neediness in their romantic partners and withdraw during times of emotional distress.
  • When young people age out of foster care, they are vulnerable. Emotionally abusive relationships might seem familiar. Predators might come to them, offering to help – and then wanting something in return. Or foster care alumni might try to isolate themselves and take on life as a “Lone Ranger.”
  • If the very first emotional / physical support systems of your life disappoint you, the logical response might very well be to depend upon yourself. This will often get you through the short-term, and ensure your physical survival.
  • But, if at some point, you want to commit to another person, to love and be loved by them, that might be hard. Because, in loving them, you are vulnerable to them... and that means that since they are human, there will be moments when they disappoint you. And at those times, having them fail you might bring to the surface the memories of every other time that someone from your past has failed you.
  • And what do we ultimately want for foster care youth and alumni?  We want them to establish interdependent lives. We want them to build and maintain healthy relationships. We want them to learn to trust, to develop autonomy, to be industrious (aka productive), to know their worth (vs. feeling inadequate) to figure out their own identity, and to create lives of connection, rather than isolation

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