SAN FRANCISCO – While the COVID-19 outbreak has impacted millions of people around the country, one vulnerable and often overlooked goup is being hit especially hard by the pandemic: foster youth who recently became adults.
Many of these former foster kids don’t have parents to help them through the impacts of the coronavirus.
Some are losing housing as college campuses have close and businesses continue to lay off workers.
Emmerald Evans grew up in San Francisco and entered foster care at age 5. She spent her childhood bouncing around the Bay Area with different families.
“I had trauma. I had pain. I had abuse. I had neglect. I had all these things in my life that I had to sort out,” she said in a recent interview with KTVU.
She overcame the odds and is now a fourth year student at Sacramento State University and works as an advocate for foster kids. When the college sent students home, she didn’t have a family to fall back on.
“Campuses have been closed. Students have to go home, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that foster youth have a home to go to,” she said.
Evans won’t be losing her apartment, but thousands of other foster youth who are now young adults are falling through the cracks.
“We’ve seen a huge increase in unemployment,” said Erica Stowers, Director of Education and Employment at First Place for Youth. Her organization provides services and houses more than 400 foster youth around California.
Since the coronavirus hit, half of the young people they serve have been laid off, or furloughed. They’ve seen dozens more people apply for housing. Many are stuck on waitlists.
“For the foster youth, they might be losing that access to the school housing but they’re also losing that access to the income to even rent a room, to even go in with a roommate and get an apartment,” Stowers said.
And homelessness isn’t the only issue hitting former foster kids. Some have children of their own to care for. Many have mental health challenges, and food insecurtiy is more common for them.
“There is a huge crisis right now and a huge gap still,” she said.
Lawmakers have recognized this problem. Gov. Gavin Newsom last month announced a $42 million investment into services for foster kids. Some of that will go to kids aging out of the system.
Assemblyman Phil Ting is asking newsom for an additional $4 million to help foster youth ages 18-to-21.
“We want to keep them on their path to success otherwise if they don’t they become a permanent part of our caseload forever,” said Ting.
But the state has an anticipitated $54 billion budget shortfall and everyone is bracing for the coming cuts. Whether the request will make it into the final budget is unclear.
“This is smart fiscally and it’s the right thing to do, and again, it’s a group that we have to help,” Ting said.
Tthe federal government has a program too. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development has 24,000 vouchers to pay for housing for eligible former foster kids at risk for homelessness.
“When you hit age 18, and you leave foster care you suddenly realize that the world is much bigger than you anticipated and there are not as many supports as you hoped, said Christopher Patterson, a former foster kid who was tapped by Secretary Ben Carson to head the program.
“This is a way to give them a solid footing — a platform for them to step up for themselves,” he said.
Back in Sacramento, Evans is continuing her education. She has some wisdom for others facing the same struggles: “You are just as capable as anybody else. Don’t let a statistic or a circumstance or experience hold you back from being who you really should be.”
Evan Sernoffsky is an investigative reporter for KTVU. Email Evan at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @EvanSernoffsky