This post originally appeared as an op-ed in the Herald Leader on May 27, 2022.
By Tia Humphrey, Lynn Rippy, and Nikki Thornton
1 in 3.
1 in 3 young adults with a foster care experience face housing instability in Kentucky.
That’s 1 in 3 young people with their livelihood and potential hanging by a thread, despite resources readily available.
How did these young people get to the point of homelessness?
In Kentucky, there are 8,760 youth in foster care, which is intended to be a temporary out-of-home placement until the child can be either be reunited with their parents, taken in by relatives, or adopted. However, the reality for too many is that ongoing placement instability leads to a lack of permanency before their 18th birthday.
Despite being taken into the state’s custody as children, these young people must transition into adulthood with little or no money to support themselves and often with no family to turn to—no place to go home for the holidays and no one to call when they have questions about cooking or filing taxes.
Homelessness experienced by youth transitioning out of foster care may look different than you expect. It could be sleeping on public transit or at a local shelter. Or it could be couch surfing or sleeping in a car. No matter the situation, housing instability often has the same domino effect that makes it more difficult to complete higher education, maintain employment, or manage the stress, trauma, and mental health impacts that go with homelessness as well as having a foster care experience.
How do we change their present reality and future outcomes?
As advocates with a range of experiences from living in foster care to working with young people impacted by foster care and homelessness to lobbying for changes to strengthen the foster care system, we recognize the important nexus May brings as Foster Care Month and Mental Health Month, especially as we face a crisis of homelessness among this vulnerable population.
Here are a few of the most significant ways we as a community and as individuals can help end homelessness among youth with a foster care experience:
- Ensure youth understand their options to opt into extended foster care. The newly enacted Senate Bill 8 allows youth aging out to extend care up to two times before the age of 20, expanding their access to education, housing, and other supports.
- Build a support system before the youth transitions out of care. Organizations like True Up offer peer support and Orphan Care Alliance offer life coaching services to ensure consistent and ongoing connection.
- Connect youth with independent living skills and transitional housing programs. The vital work of Family Scholar House equips vulnerable young people with the life skills and education, employment, housing, and transportation resources needed to transition into adulthood.
- Support emergency housing options so youth cannot fall through the cracks. YouthBuild offers emergency housing placements and case management services to former foster youth.
- Consider becoming a foster parent of teens. Learn more about fostering at kyfaces.ky.gov. Find additional resources to support youth aging out of care at kyrise.ky.gov.
Through all of this, there must be an underlying understanding of the lived experiences of the young people and recognition of their mental health needs. Removing stigmas of foster care experiences and homelessness, and normalizing seeking help for mental health concerns makes a more supportive and caring community for these young adults to thrive.
With the collaboration of community partners listed above and numerous others, as well as state programs and those with lived experience in foster care and with homelessness – and caring community members like you – we can end homelessness among our young people.
How will you help those 1 in 3?
Tia Humphrey is a young adult with a foster care experience, a recent graduate of UofL and a Peer Navigator with DCBS; Lynn Rippy is President & CEO of YouthBuild Louisville; and Nikki Thornton is Executive Director of True Up Kentucky.