Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Senate Caucus on Foster Youth Recognizes and Supports ACTION Ohio's efforts

A decade of making a difference: Senate Caucus on Foster Youth
Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee

Ten years ago this month, Sen. Mary Landrieu and I founded the bipartisan Senate Caucus on Foster Youth. We launched this caucus a decade ago to give voice to the thousands of young people in America who deserved a platform to break the silence on the challenges and success stories of foster care. This issue impacts every community in America.

Our caucus not only provides the platform, we encourage foster youth to participate and lead discussions on issues that matter most to them. It’s become a vital network for young people to connect with other youth in foster care and empowers them to share their ideas with researchers, advocates and lawmakers.

When I first got involved in foster care and adoption policy more than 20 years ago, I learned kids in foster care are the last ones to have a say in determining their future. If they are even asked at all. I learned older youth in foster care are brimming with innovative ideas to improve the system. And yet, they rarely had an opportunity to share those ideas with policymakers. When we launched the foster youth caucus in 2009, we made this a specific priority. Our mission was to ensure foster youth had a seat at the table.

Over the years, we’ve hosted discussions to consider barriers facing foster youth, including access to education, pervasive rates of homelessness and juvenile justice involvement, and substance abuse. We heard astounding stories of seemingly impossible success, as well as heartbreaking examples about things that are broken in the foster care system. The caucus invited stakeholders in the foster care system to learn about innovative programs working in communities across the country. We’ve followed up with researchers to understand why. But most importantly, we listened to the real experts on foster care: youth who have firsthand experience.

Listening directly to them has made a big impact on policy development and implementation. Time and again, foster kids tell us they want stability, a safe place to live, and a loving family. Many times, we heard testimonials from foster kids that if someone had just helped their parents, they might have avoided foster care in the first place. These conversations led to enactment of the Family First Prevention Services Act. This federal law reforms the foster care system to focus on what keeps kids safely at home, rather than bringing them into foster care.

One of the challenges facing older teens who age-out of the system without reunification with their biological family or adoption is homelessness. Once again, we heard from foster youth to solve the problem.

In 2013, ACTION Ohio, a group of foster youth and foster care alumni began advocating for changes in housing policy to access federal housing assistance. Although HUD’s Family Unification Vouchers were previously available to youth who “aged out” of care, this group flagged flaws in the program. We collaborated and crafted solutions. These efforts led to the development of HUD’s Foster Youth to Independence Initiative and my introduction in 2017 with Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio) of the bicameral Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act. This legislation to make additional improvements to accessible housing for foster youth was reintroduced and is making its way through the 116th Congress.

In its first decade, the Senate Caucus on Foster Youth flexed its influence and made a difference. In the 116th Congress, nearly one-third of the Senate is on board with 32 senators from both sides of the aisle. Even in divisive political times, there’s a chord of bipartisanship to help kids in foster care.

All children deserve a safe, permanent, loving home and consistent, caring adults to parent them. Society owes a debt of gratitude for all those who work to achieve this goal. Foster parents, caseworkers, court officials and youth advocates are a lifeline to vulnerable youth. I commend foster kids and teens for speaking up, demanding action, and fervently working to improve a system that in some cases failed them.

As a co-founder and current co-chair of the Senate Caucus on Foster Youth with Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, I will continue listening and leading the way so foster youth are empowered to pursue their dreams like every child in America.

Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Columbus Dispatch Editorial Board endorses FSHO

Many thanks to the Columbus Dispatch Editorial Board for endorsing the Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act:

  • "Brown and Grassley’s bill would offer a lifeline to former foster children who find themselves suddenly on their own and without the family support most young adults can count on."

  • "Currently they have to join long waiting lists for housing vouchers through a federal program, and many become homeless. The Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act would make the vouchers available to aged-out foster youth on demand and in more communities."

The Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act passed by unanimous consent in the U.S. House of Representatives, and is currently being championed in the U.S. Senate.

Diffusion of Innovation

Adopting a new idea or behavior is a process - and some people are quicker to do so than others. 

1.) Innovators -tend to be eager to try it out; they might have helped design it in the first place
2.) Early Adopters - are willing to adapt to change and try out new methods/ideas
3.) Early Majority - respond to success and evidence of the innovation's effectiveness
4.) Late Majority - wait to see if the innovation really works
5.) Laggards - are skeptical of change and bound by tradition; they tend to be the last to buy-in

Strategies that can help promote buy-in to a new innovation (such as FYI Housing Vouchers for former foster youth) include:

1.) Explaining the why: They need to be aware of the need for this change. Why is the status quo not working?

2.) Explaining why this matters: Assuming they care about the big picture (i.e. improving youth outcomes) and appealing to their values.

3.) Coaching them through the how: They might at first perceive that the innovation is difficult/complicated. Offering them support and walking them through it can make a big difference.

4.) Asking the innovators and early adopters to try it out first, to prove it works: This evidence helps encourage others who might be fearful, uncertain or reluctant to be open to change.

5.) Gathering evidence: Tracking data in order to demonstrate tangible results.

Thursday, December 05, 2019

We each have our personal journeys.

As a foster care youth, I was accepted into college at 16 years old, and entrusted to care of a legal guardian.

After being emancipated at age 17, and getting my own apartment, I tried to save a former group home roommate - and ended up homeless. Today, we have a workshop about this called “When Helping You Is Hurting Me.”

I couch-surfed. I slept on the college bus. I slept in college libraries.

I kept on working and going to school, and saved every penny I could.

I was lucky enough to find a future dorm/home in the UK Wesley Foundation I was able to make it through college and grad school.

That was forever ago —- and it doesn’t make sense that our nation hasn’t done more to help with housing supports since then.

The Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act is long-overdue.

During the 2018 trip to DC that Ohio foster care youth made, we had a legislative meeting with Senator Brown’s Office during which there were three of us former fosters in one room who had aged out at age 16, due to academic progress. And  yet, the tightrope when it comes to succeeding vs. ending up homeless hadn’t changed. They were youth and still fighting the same battles to survive that I had.

Our younger brothers and sisters of the system deserve better - and  things don’t tend to get better unless we work together to make them so. For a young person with a foster care history who is experiencing homelessness this is immediate and urgent, and not just some random issue that can be scheduled on a calendar.

 If you have the chance, please call the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121 and ask to be transferred to your Senator's office. Please ask your Senator to co-sponsor The Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act (S. 2803) this week and move it to a vote next week. The Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act passed unanimously in the U.S. House of Representatives. Our hope is for the U.S. Senate to move forward and pass it THIS YEAR. ❤️❤️❤️

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

Inequity undermines foster care outcomes

In Ohio, social service programs are state sponsored and county administered. This is true for some other states as well -- but, according to the Center for Community Solutions, Ohio is unique in the degree to which we rely on local support of health and social service programs.

While all 50 states have property taxes, Ohio relies on locally-generated funds to support health and social services to a greater degree than most other states do.

This leads to inequity of resources, inconsistency of resources, and explains why, when it comes to social services, our state might seem to be doing the same thing 88 different ways.

Ongoing support for social services in each county is far from guaranteed. If local levies fail, agencies must determine how to maintain mandated services with fewer resources.

What would it take for our state to fund social services differently, rather than relying so heavily on local funds?

Saturday, November 09, 2019

“Despite the multiple ways that demands on Chafee-funded services have grown, Chafee has received minimal funding increases over the years. In fact, after counting for inflation, Chafee’s funding levels are about 30% lower now than when it was established” in 1999.

Senate version of Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act is introduced

The Senate version of the Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act was introduced this week by Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA).

Senator Grassley is the Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and Senator Brown serves as Ranking Member of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee.

The bill was introduced with no changes. The wording of this bill has been honed by foster youth for years, and they wanted to maintain its integrity.

1. Press Release
2. Thank you letter to Senator Brown
3. Thank you letter to Senator Grassley
4. Proponent testimony by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Op Ed by HUD Secretary Ben Carson

Young people enter our foster care system for many different reasons, but too many share a common story once they age out: They don’t have a stable home of their own.

One of our recent “Humans of HUD” spotlights here at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development features Adora, a young lady who was just a teenager when her mother died and her father returned to his home country. For Adora and her siblings, America was the only home they knew. But without their parents, they entered the foster care system and were shuffled from place to place. Imagine growing older and aging out of foster care, alone, without a home or any of the support young people need to set out on their own path. 

Each year, there are more than 20,000 young people with stories like Adora’s who age out of foster care. Shockingly, the National Center for Housing and Child Welfare estimates that 25% of these young people will experience homelessness within four years. 

Recently, it was my personal and professional point of pride to announce a brand new initiative: Foster Youth to Independence, a collaborative effort to combat homelessness among at-risk youth by targeting housing assistance to young people leaving foster care. HUD’s new program allows local public housing authorities to request tenant protection vouchers for young adults who have recently left foster care without a home to go to.

It is complementary to FUP, our Family Unification Program, and has three main goals:

 ▪ It will address the lack of availability of housing vouchers to young people in communities without access to FUP resources. 

 ▪ It will prioritize resources to our nation’s at-risk youth. Currently, young people encounter significant barriers to accessing affordable housing resources, including the FUP program. For example, local welfare authorities often prioritize families at risk of homelessness over single, young adults. This contributes to the fact that early-age populations make up only about 5% of FUP housing voucher recipients.

 ▪ This program will further HUD’s goal of ending homelessness. No person should experience homelessness. Not only will this initiative provide foster youth with housing, but it will also provide them with the tools they need to become self-sufficient through supportive services they can access for up to three years. 

Stable housing lays the foundation for a stable family and, in turn, a stable life. This program will work with local authorities to direct housing assistance to the young people who need it most. For too long, foster youth have been forgotten when it comes to affordable housing. HUD is committed to changing that.  

I am proud of HUD’s many efforts to help set forgotten Americans onto a path to self-sufficiency. No matter the obstacles, no matter how difficult the beginnings, anyone can rise to their potential in the land of the free. And at HUD, we are committed to making that dream a reality for all of America’s vulnerable — our young people included.

~ Ben Carson is secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Friday, July 26, 2019

FYI Housing Vouchers Are Announced

Many thanks to the Ohio foster care youth and alumni 
who have worked for seven years
to make this happen!

Technical Details About FYI Housing Vouchers

Click to enlarge photo

What is the Foster Youth Independence Program (FYI)?
Since 2013, the FSHO Coalition, led by ACTION Ohio, has worked in partnership with the National Center for Housing and Child Welfare (NCHCW), elected officials including foster youth champions, Reps. Turner and Bass, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to study how to knit existing federal programs together to eliminate the gaps through which foster youth fall into homelessness.
The FSHO Coalition discovered that the best way to eliminate gaps is to synchronize existing programs such as HUD’s Family Unification Program (FUP), with the predictable nature of emancipation (the date a young person leaves state custody). FYI allows all local Public Housing Authorities to provide an “on demand” FUP voucher that is timed with a young person’s emancipation from foster care. In this way, existing federal resources, can be knitted together and used as a platform for economic success.
What is the Family Unification Program?
HUD’s Family Unification Program (FUP) is the only national housing program aimed at preventing family separation due to homelessness and easing the transition to adulthood for aging-out youth. HUD provides Housing Choice Vouchers (“Section 8”) to local public housing authorities (PHAs) who apply to administer the program. These PHAs are then required to work in partnership with the local public child welfare agency to identify youth and families to refer to the program. FUP has existed since 1990 for families and youth were added as an eligible population in 2000. Unlike families, young people participating in FUP receive vouchers that are time-limited to three years.
The impact of this relatively small program is extraordinary. Each year more than 75,000 children live in safe, affordable housing and avoid out-of-home placement and homelessness due to FUP. Since youth were added in the year 2000, more than 5,000 young people have received housing vouchers and their own, independent apartment upon leaving foster care.
How does FYI change FUP for youth?
Currently, FUP vouchers for youth come from an unpredictable pool of funding and are only administered by certain PHAs. FYI will address this challenge in two ways. It will provide a method for national consistency by allowing all PHAs to administer FUP. FYI will also make it possible to issue youth vouchers on demand, by changing the funding source to a flexible but little-known account at HUD called the Tenant Protection Account. Vouchers (TPVs) from this account can be issued “on demand” at the discretion of the HUD Secretary. To learn more about TPVs visit www. nchcw.org.
Who is eligible?
  • The PCWA will certify that the youth is at least 18 years old and not more than 24 years old (has not reached his/her 25th birthday), that he/she left foster care at age 16 or older or will leave foster care within 90 days, in accordance with a transition plan, and is homeless or at risk of homelessness.
  • Keep in mind that a housing choice voucher requires that an individual sign a legal document called a lease with a private landlord.
  • Thus, the FYI Coalition recommends and research by the University of Denver indicates that young people who are participating in extended foster care or Chafee Independent Living Services, are close to reaching their 21st birthday, and who participate in supervised independent living placements are the best candidates for referral.
How does a child welfare agency make a referral?
  1. First, all public child welfare agencies (PCWAs) should establish a point of contact at their local PHA and begin to develop a relationship with their peer at that organization.
  2. Next, PCWAs use a variety of independent living funding sources to prepare young people who are likely to reach adulthood in state care.
  3. As young people move along this continuum of services, PCWA staff should monitor if a young person is at risk of homelessness and interested in the stability of renting their own apartment.
  4. If it is the case that a young person will not be able to afford to rent an apartment without a government subsidy then, the PCWA staff will notify their peer at the local PHA about three to six months prior to emancipation (in most states this is just before age 21) that the young person is eligible for and interested in a FUP voucher.
  5. PCWAs should also begin to forecast and predict how many young people will need vouchers within their caseload so that they can request vouchers in batches from their local PHA.
D.) How many young people will this program serve annually?
  • The National Youth in Transition Database report indicates that 20% of 19-year-old alumni (1,576) and 28% of 21-year-old alumni (1,991) experience homelessness.
  • Given these figures, the FSHO Coalition estimates that approximately 2,000 youth people who are leaving foster care could benefit from FYI/FUP for youth.
  • PCWAs must begin to work with their local homeless service providers and identify young people who can be brought back into the fold of the public child welfare system and provided with appropriate services to prepare for access to independent apartments through FYI/FUP.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Housing Vouchers After Foster Care

Click to enlarge photo

Update from John Kelly, of the Chronicle of Social Change, July 25, 2019. Earlier this year, we reported on the case made by current and former foster youths to use existing authority at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to connect youth aging out of care with housing supports. The Chronicle of Social Change has learned that, after a thorough review of the policy by HUD’s general counsel, the agency is set this week to approve this and notify thousands of public housing authorities. HUD has yet to publicly comment on these developments. But an event is being planned for this Friday in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, during which Secretary Ben Carson will announce the Foster Youth to Independence initiative. “I truly believe that in order to improve outcomes for our youth, our people who make the decisions have to be willing and able to listen to the population they are serving,” said Jamole Callahan, one of the former foster youths who helped campaign for the policy. “This solution … was a simple fix. This is another step towards ending youth homelessness." The plan was pitched to HUD by Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities (FSHO) Coalition, whose members met in early March with HUD Secretary Ben Carson to lay out a plan for a $20 million voucher program. Under that plan, HUD would use an existing pot of money – a federal rental assistance account – to pay for the vouchers. “We see kids attempt post-secondary and fail just because they don’t have housing,” said Callahan, who helps lead Foster Action Ohio, in an April interview with The Chronicle of Social Change. “They have to work to maintain an apartment, then school becomes the background. And it becomes all about survival.” As per this plan which was crafted by Ohio foster care youth and alumni: A child welfare agency would file paperwork with HUD for what’s called a Family Unification Voucher in the months before a youth aged out. That youth would be tied into HUD’s Family Self-Sufficiency Support program as well, which means the voucher could last up to five years. After a youth’s voucher is up, it is then “recycled” back to HUD to be used for another youth. HUD, after reviewing the argument, agreed it is allowable under existing authority and is moving forward on it. The agency did not cap the voucher availability either, which means the total spending on foster youths could exceed $20 million. The need for housing supports for foster youth is critical. Anywhere from 20,000 to 25,000 youth age out of care each year in America, and 28 percent experience homelessness by age 21, according to the National Youth in Transition Database. In some states, it’s above 40 percent. In a recent study based on interviews with 215 young adults who experienced unaccompanied homelessness as youths, foster care was identified as a major factor. Ninety-four out of the 215 interviewees had a history in foster care; of that group of 94, nearly half said entrance into foster care was the “beginning of their housing instability.” Advocates for the plan are still pursuing federal legislation to codify it into law. The FSHO Act would guarantee a housing voucher starting from emancipation through age 25 for any youth aging out of foster care who could demonstrate the need for a subsidy. The bill is co-sponsored by Reps. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) and Karen Bass (D-Calif.).

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Great news!!!

All 46 central Ohio Donatos Pizza restaurants have now been trained about Huckleberry House programs, Safe Place and about Safe Place site procedures. These 46 Donatos restaurants now provide a way to safety for runaway or homeless youth in their community.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Fathers, or the lack thereof

I still remember the girl I once was before, during and after foster care. And how much I craved a father figure at that time.

At the time, I looked to TV/movie entities, including Bill Cosby (there was no shadow on his legacy back then), as well as Steve Martin, Robin Williams, and others.

Today, if you ever need a laugh, or just some encouragement that all is not wrong with the world, and that some men truly do care with all their heart about being great fathers...

Check out “New Father Chronicles” by La Guardia Cross on YouTube:


Excellent quote that gets right to the heart of the matter

Thursday, July 04, 2019

Youth Voices Matter

This year, I am celebrating Independence Day by focusing on how to continue to advocate and help create more resources to support young people entering into young adulthood.

While also feeling deeply saddened by what's going on in our country regarding the detainment and treatment of immigrant children and teens.

Come on, America, we can do BETTER than this:

The Very Impatient Advocate

The Very Impatient Caterpillar by Ross Burch is my favorite Picture Book of 2019, because it captures the advocacy struggle so well.

As foster care youth, alumni and ally advocates, we have a shared sense of URGENCY. The work we are doing matters so much, and the initiatives we are trying to launch and policies we are trying to change feel long overdue.

And yet, we are often faced with delays and/or needing to take additional time to figure out more details...

Because we want the things we are trying to achieve to have strong wings to fly, and to soar upwards towards success and long-term sustainability.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Grateful for 19 years of marriage

Click to enlarge

I am deeply grateful for 19 years of marriage to Nathan Dickson. He is my songbird and my oasis. He challenges, exasperates and inspires me on a daily basis. I love his brilliant brain, hilarious wit, and creative talents.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Celebrating the journey: May - June 2019

A wise sister of mine, Angie Cross, taught me that we need to take time to celebrate milestones during the course of our ongoing advocacy work. So far, May and June have been incredibly busy months...

 1.) We met with the new Director of Child Welfare Transformation to talk about the need for a statewide foster care ombudsman, and to include youth voice in what that office should look like...

 2.) We are continuing to share the need for a statewide medical ombudsman (to address overmedication in foster care), and following up on youth reports of abuse in a specific residential facility.

 3.) We are continuing to work on national efforts to improve housing outcomes after foster care, including the Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act, The Higher Education Access and Success for Homeless and Foster Youth Act of 2019, and The Fostering Success in Higher Education Act

 4.) We had the privilege of being a part of the 2019 Ohio Family Care Association Conference, and are deeply grateful to Dot Erickson Anderson, Denise St Clair and others for caring about youth voice and for helping identify host homes for young adults in the Bridges program.

 5.) We are deeply grateful for the ongoing commitment of CMHA to bring Scholar House 3 from vision to reality. (groundbreaking is set for August 2020, with 30 residents -- hooray!!)

I wanted to take a moment to send some love and appreciation to our foster care youth, alumni and allies for their diligence and dedication.

We can - we are - we will make things better.

Thank you for being a part of this ongoing journey.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Two Federal Bills to Improve Higher Education Outcomes for Foster and Homeless Youth

Ohio foster care youth and alumni are grateful to have two federal Senators who care about improving college access, retention, and completion rates for foster and homeless youth.

1.) The Higher Education Access and Success for Homeless and Foster Youth Act of 2019 (S.789/H.R.1724) was co-introduced by Ohio’s very own Senator Rob Portman in the Senate.

This bill amends the Higher Education Act to simplify eligibility for federal financial aid and to improve outreach, resources, and policies for homeless and foster youth, by doing the following:

 • Ensuring that college access programs identify, recruit, and prepare homeless and foster students for college, as well as collecting data in order to identify ways they can further support student retention and success

 • Streamlining the process of applying for and receiving financial aid for foster and homeless youth, including retaining paperwork and not requiring the young person to re-determine their status, year after year

• Retaining important documentation-- paperwork often gets lost for homeless and foster youth, and can jeopardize our access to financial aid and other critical supports

• Requiring states to provide in-state tuition rates for foster and homeless youth, in order to reduce barriers to college attendance due to lack of financial support

• Developing a plan to assist homeless and foster youth in accessing campus housing resources during and between academic terms

• Communicating the resources and financial aid available to homeless and foster youth • Designating liaisons to assist homeless and foster youth in accessing institutional and community services and to support their ability to complete higher education

2.) The Fostering Success in Higher Education Act  (S. 1650) is supported by Ohio’s very own Senator Sherrod Brown, and is scheduled to be reintroduced in the Senate and House early next week!!

This bill seeks to update the Higher Education Act by providing grants to states throughout the nation to increase the number of foster and homeless youth that apply for and enroll in institutions of higher education. States that receive grants must use at least 70% of the grant funds to award sub-grants to colleges/universities to support and require them to become institutions of excellence by improving college access, retention, and completion rates for foster and homeless youth.

This bill would:

• Establish or expand transitions between K-12 and higher education for foster and homeless youth, including summer bridge programs, through statewide initiatives.

• Develop “institutions of excellence” that are committed to serving foster and homeless youth from entrance to completion via robust support services and by covering the remaining cost of attendance beyond federal and state grants.

Ohio foster care advocates, if the Fostering Success in Higher Education Act becomes federal law, it could:

 1.) Help support existing #excellentinstitutions, including: Columbus State Community College, University of Cincinnati, Cuyahoga Community College, Wright State University, and Ohio University.

2.) Provide opportunities to support sustainability and expansion of awesome programs, including: Scholar Network, HEMI, Sullivan-Deckard Scholars Opportunity Program, Reach Scholars Mentoring Program, and the Independent Scholars Network.

3.) Lead to the creation and development of more #excellentinstitutions throughout each state in the nation, to support improved higher education outcomes for foster and homeless youth.

Tuesday, May 07, 2019

I wish Daenerys had never met Jon Snow

She would still have three dragons, and still have Jorah.

Arya and Sansa don't appreciate any of her sacrifices, nor do any of the Northerners.

I am beginning to hate this show.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

"Do you ever make mistakes? They’re birds now."

Cue every insightful Bob Ross quote ever... 

"I want everything that I love."

Quote from Edward: “I want everything that I love.”

Lisa: “Who doesn’t? You said it, Edward - I want everything that I love, too.”


Tuesday, April 02, 2019

FSHO Coalition Plan is national news!!!

Trump Administration Reviewing Plan for Housing Support to Any Youth Aging Out of Foster Care

HUD Secretary Ben Carson (center) met with a coalition of advocates and former foster youths about a new plan for public housing support after foster care. Photo courtesy of iFoster.
Jamole Callahan is turning 40 this year. He’s carved out a successful career in advocacy and motivational speaking (his Twitter handle is @MrMotivator). But in college, as a youth who had aged out of foster care, his path was far from stable.
My issue after aging out was there was just nowhere for me to go when school went on break,” Callahan said in an interview with The Chronicle of Social Change.
During those college breaks in Ohio, he stayed with classmates, or sometimes with a friend of his high school science teacher. But many teens lack such options.
“We see kids attempt postsecondary and fail just because they don’t have housing,” Callahan said. “They have to work to maintain an apartment, then school becomes the background. And it becomes all about survival.”
There are some competing ideas about how best to legislate new federal support for housing to help youth after they exit foster care. But a group of housing advocates and former foster youths recently met with top federal housing officials to make the case that there’s no need to wait for Congress.
A group called the Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities (FSHO) Coalition — which includes Callahan’s youth-led ACTION Ohio and the National Center for Housing and Child Welfare — met in early March with Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson to lay out a plan for a $20 million voucher program aimed at preventing homelessness for transition age foster youth. Under that plan, HUD would use an existing pot of money to provide on-demand vouchers and assistance for foster youth who needed stable housing.”
HUD is currently reviewing the proposal to determine the agency’s authority to act on it. If the plan moves forward, it could be a game changer for thousands of teens and young adults who age out of foster care each year.
The stakes couldn’t be higher. After decades of reforms aimed at preventing youth from becoming adults in foster care, or ending up on the street when it happens, the number of youth who age out of the system has stubbornly ranged from 20,000 to 25,000 per year.
And research shows that the percentage of foster youth who end up experiencing homelessness is still outrageously high — 28 percent experience homelessness by age 21, according to the National Youth in Transition Database. In some states, it’s above 40 percent.
“They are doing something that could mean a seismic shift in housing and child welfare policy,” said Ruth Anne White, executive director of the National Center for Housing and Child Welfare.
Following is a breakdown of how the plan would work.

The Programs

Through its Tenant Protection Fund, HUD is given money to provide Tenant Protection Vouchers. In general, these vouchers are designed to provide rent support to people when changing circumstances threaten to leave them homeless. Surely, one such circumstance would be a person aging out of foster care at age 18 or older, with no affordable housing option on the horizon.
There are several different types of Tenant Protection Vouchers that target different populations. One is called the Family Unification Program (FUP) voucher, which can be used for two child welfare-related groups:
  • Families for whom a lack of housing portends a foster care removal or problems reunifying with a child in foster care.
  • Youth between the ages of 18 and 21 who lack adequate housing as they age out of foster care.
Alongside the FUP voucher is the Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) program, which provides assistance aimed at helping public housing residents increase their earned income and decrease reliance on the social safety net. This support includes job training, child care, transportation subsidies and financial literacy classes.
The FUP voucher lasts for three years. But continued FSS participation allows a FUP voucher recipient to receive an additional two years of support, so pairing the two could mean post-foster care housing support can last for up to five years.
Under the plan pitched to HUD by the advocates, a child welfare agency would file FUP paperwork in the year leading up a youth’s emancipation from foster care – whether that occurred at age 18, 21 or some point in between. HUD would issue the FUP voucher, and the local public housing authority would administer both the voucher and the FSS services.
It is worth noting here that currently, most public housing authorities do not offer FUP vouchers. More on that later, because the coalition’s plan would negate that barrier.

The Money

So that’s the structure that can be used to support youths aging out of foster care. But is there money available to fund the vouchers and the employment-related services? Apparently yes — the advocates who met with Carson argue that there’s a fund at HUD that can be tapped to jumpstart this.
FUP has had an up-and-down ride when it comes to funding, White said. It has been an allowable version of the Tenant Protection Vouchers since 1990, and there was a regular carve-out for it until about 2002, after which it faded out of the annual appropriations process.
A line item for FUP resurfaced in fiscal 2008, written into appropriations that year by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and former Sen. Kit Bond (R-Kansas). The two wrote in instructions for HUD to spend $20 million on FUP. More recent allocations for FUP have ranged from $10 million in 2017 to $20 million in 2018.
But the coalition told HUD officials that there is a bigger bank of unspent HUD funds that could be used to create a dedicated FUP youth program. The congressional justifications for President Trump’s 2019 budget noted $133.2 million in carryover funds in the area of “rental assistance.”
Nearly all of that money is from the Tenant Protection Fund, where FUP lives. It is held in reserve at the moment for housing complexes affected by demolition or expiring affordable housing contracts, and to help situate some people in the federal witness protection program. The FSHO Coalition asked for $20 million out of this contingency fund to be dedicated for FUP youth.

The Renewal

The most critical piece of the advocates’ plan is a change in the way that FUP vouchers are made available to youth.
Currently, FUP’s youth vouchers are awarded in blocks through a competitive process where public housing agencies are the applicants. This, White said, is an inefficient way to get at a finite group of youth who are flung throughout the country. There are thousands of housing authorities, and only the winners would receive vouchers.
In a place where the demand by foster youths is low, or a housing agency is bad at connecting with child welfare agencies, those vouchers might sit idle. And elsewhere, foster youths who might badly need the help wouldn’t get vouchers because they were awarded to the nearby agency.
Other HUD voucher programs are processed on-demand, meaning that a single family or person applies and is considered for an available slot. This centralizes the approval process to HUD, removing the local housing authorities and their individual store of vouchers from the equation.
“Converting to an on-demand process is key,” White said, “because youth continue to be in purgatory for pilot projects. We appreciate all the efforts to build housing around the country for youth – but 40 new units in Cincinnati won’t help the youth in Athens. This complements those efforts.”
The result is that most areas of the country end up with no FUP vouchers, and among the public housing authorities that do offer them, most of the action goes to families, and not foster youth. A 2014 study found that just 91 of the 195 FUP programs served foster youth, and among those 91 programs, only a third of the FUP vouchers went to foster youths.
“The most common reason [public housing authorities] cited for not serving any youth was a lack of referrals,” said the study. “The lack of youth referrals likely did not arise from lack of demand.”
Converting FUP’s foster youth vouchers to an on-demand process would solve that, and allow child welfare agencies to deal directly with HUD in preparing for these teens to age out of foster care and into stable housing for up to five years. And when a particular youth had completed the FUP-FSS program, that voucher would recycle back to HUD to be used for the next youth.

What Comes Next

The FSHO Coalition sat down with HUD Secretary Carson on March 4 to lay out what they believed to be an actionable plan that the agency could start setting up without any help from Congress.
Carson was engaged in his meeting on the plan, said Callahan of ACTION Ohio. “He gets it, he does. He was very intrigued about the info we had, and had questions about where the data came from.”
That was hardly the first or last meeting with HUD the coalition has had. Callahan said they have been lobbying HUD and Congress for seven years, and have developed allies there. Danielle Bastarache, HUD’s deputy assistant secretary for policy programs, has “become a champion for this,” Callahan said.
White, of the National Center for Housing and Child Welfare, said that HUD officials have been supportive of the plan. The agency sent officials with her to a meeting this month at the Department of Health and Human Services, the agency that oversees child welfare policy and funding.
“So they hoofed it over when we had the strategy meeting about it,” White said. “I feel like they wouldn’t have done that if they didn’t want to move forward.”
HUD officials declined to comment for this story, but a spokesman for the agency said the proposal is being reviewed by its Office of General Counsel and Chief Financial Officer.
There is also the matter of legislation to permanently embed this plan into law. The coalition that met with HUD had originally conceived of this plan in a 2018 bill – called the Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities (FSHO) Act, which would guarantee a housing voucher starting from emancipation through age 25 for any youth aging out of foster care who could demonstrate the need for a subsidy.
The bill — sponsored in the House by Reps. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) and Karen Bass (D-Calif.), and in the Senate by several members of the Senate Caucus on Foster Youth — ran up against some opposition in the previous Congress because it included a work requirement. That requirement has since been removed, and White said that the group has also garnered the support of House Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-Calif.).
If HUD moves forward on its own authority, passing the FSHO Act mostly becomes an exercise in codifying this plan. It would establish the foster youth voucher as a distinct program within FUP that is to be carried out using an on-demand process.
“If Carson signed a memorandum today, that could go out today,” said Callahan. “But at the turn of a new administration, that could go away.”
An online petition circulated to support the FSHO bill has more than 54,000 signatures.
If it all comes together, the plan could ensure a key stabilizing factor for one of the most likely groups in the nation to end up on the streets.
“The child welfare system knows when a kid will be terminated,” Callahan said. “Now we can make sure there’s a voucher anywhere in the country for them to provide assistance.”