Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 2010-11 budget sent a clear message to 1,400 abused and neglected children participating in the state’s model transitional housing program: Hit the streets.
Under the governor’s proposed budget, if the state does not receive $6.9 billion in extra federal funding, a new round of cuts will be triggered, including complete elimination of the Transitional Housing Placement program.
Established in 2001 to address the growing problem of homelessness among youth who “age-out” of foster care when they turn age 18, the Transitional Housing Placement program provides safe, affordable housing and life-skills training to 2,000 youths annually in California, including 50 to 60 in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties.
This funding cut would affect local young people such as Tamera Richardson, a former foster child and current Transitional Housing Placement program participant with the Family Care Network in Santa Barbara who, prior to entering the program, lived in her car while working three jobs and attending college.
The program restored a tangible hope for Richardson, who is proudly pursuing her college degree and taking full advantage of the life-skills training the program provides.
The Transitional Housing Placement program is fundamental to changing a historical neglect of youths who are transitioning out of foster care.
Aging out of foster care usually means unemployment, low rates of educational achievement and high rates of involvement with the criminal justice system.
One study showed that only 46 percent of youths who age-out of foster care complete high school, less than half the rate for their peers of the same age and race, according to aecf.org.
Former foster youths were also 2.8 times more likely to be arrested and 70 percent more likely to be incarcerated, a reality that both of Richardson’s siblings have experienced.
The Transitional Housing Placement program changes this grim picture drastically. A 2008 survey of 458 youths in the Transitional Housing Placement program conducted by the John Burton Foundation found a measurable 19 percent gain in employment, a 13 percent increase in hourly wage and similar advances in education, health and housing stability.
The survey also reported decreased rates of “disconnectedness,” defined as an individual who is neither employed nor attending school. Rates of disconnectedness decreased by 39 percent among youths who entered the Transitional Housing Placement program.
Now, the governor is proposing to cut the one small lifeline this vulnerable population on the Central Coast currently clings to.
When she received word that this critical support might be cut, Tamera Richardson was overwhelmed, stating that without the Transitional Housing Placement program, her life would be very different.
“It would be very depressing, devastating. I would go down (into depression). There (would) go my hopes for the future,” she said. “It’s a scary thing to think about.”
Unfortunately, Richardson is not alone. With the unemployment rate increasing and our economy barely limping along, can we really afford to shuffle 1,400 youths, along with all their potential, into the streets?
The Family Care Network, local families and, most of all, transitional-aged youths, are urging Central Coast citizens to support this often overlooked population by taking action in a variety of ways.
Become a mentor or tutor for one of these youths, contribute monetarily to agencies such as the Family Care Network to enable them to bring these life changing services to more local youths, and finally, send a strong message to local government officials about the importance of this critical program.
The message to the governor is clear: Do what your heart tells you now and what your wallet will tell you later. Preserve the life raft that is the Transitional Housing Placement program for California’s most vulnerable youths.
Jim Roberts has been the executive director of the Family Care Network Inc. for 23 years. The agency currently serves 1,800 foster youths in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties annually.