Life for many youth who emancipate from the foster care system becomes difficult to navigate. I know it was for me. It seemed like those who cared stopped caring once their caseload decreased. Fortunately, I had a supportive social worker who helps me in any way she can, but many youth do not. Although I am struggling, I can say that I have great support system. Many youth go through the foster care system without anyone in their support circle, and so they exit without anyone too. Again, I have a support circle; but even with them, I struggle daily. Some people want to call me a “Success Story.” With everything that’s going on in life, I don’t feel very successful and I’m sure other youth feel the same way.
Where can I even start with housing? Finding affordable housing is like searching for Santa Claus, it doesn’t exist. Have you ever received those emails that claim that they have affordable housing for low income families and individuals, and you click the link to be sent to a page where a studio is over $2,000 and a 1 bedroom is $2,200? What’s even more frustrating is when a social worker gives you the same list. Housing is hard to find period, but if you are a young person just aging out, with no real income, and a credit report that was basically destroyed by those who were supposed to care for you while you were in the system, housing seems impossible. You end up in independent living programs for 18-22 months. You go from one independent living program to the next, trying to make sure you always have somewhere to sleep even if you hate it. If you can’t get in, you’re stuck Couch-surfing, which is dangerous, you end up in shelters, or on the streets. If you are on the streets, you most likely will end up doing things you never thought you would do such as stealing. The Mayor’s plan to end homelessness is working just fine, right?
One of the reasons it’s hard to find housing is because of the lack of employment. There are millions of jobs, but how many are willing to hire young people with no experience? Not many. However, it’s not that difficult to get the low paying jobs where you work, if you’re lucky, 4 days a week. For many, the pay is not enough to live on. For college youth in foster care or who have emancipated, you use to only needed 2 years of experience in something. That’s not the case anymore. Retail jobs are getting out of hand; some of them are looking for people with 5-8 years of experience just working the cash register. Seriously? I believe this tactic is used to discriminate on young people. This is a great example of ageism.
There are so many other issues that foster youth aging out may face, but we are expected to make it because we are adults. Why is it that foster youth are expected to “know better” or act as an independent adult when many youth at 21 who have never been in the system, and who have always had a strong support system are expected to live their life and have fun? For youth emancipating, their gift on their 21th birthday sometimes, unfortunately, includes the gift of adulthood on the dangerous streets of D.C.