Former Foster Youth Finds Housing and Support

The story of a former foster youth who found hope and stability through EHC LifeBuilders' THP-Plus program.

Former foster youth Denisse is on the way to a successful adulthood thanks to our Transitional Housing Placement Plus program.

When we first met Denisse, we were struck by her calm presence and how articulate she is. That’s because she’s used to sharing her story as a way of helping other foster youth who experience deep insecurities and lack the support of caring adults. Within minutes, she got straight to the heart of her own struggle to grow up successfully: “I just didn’t believe in family.”

Denisse‘s mother was not around much during her childhood. When she was 14, her father left Denisse and her brother on their own, too. The two siblings went into the foster care system, where they were fortunate to be placed in a home together. For a time, Denisse felt secure. She enjoyed school, where she made the honor roll and participated in a number of activities.

Denisse was also fortunate to have a very attentive social worker who, when Denisse was 16, encouraged her to sign up for sign onto the waiting list for EHC LifeBuilder’s Transitional Housing Placement Plus program. THP-Plus provides 24 months of housing and supportive services for youth aging out of the foster care system. At the time, the list was about three years long.

“Being a foster kid messes with your head.”

  Then as Denisse was nearing the end of her high school career, and dreaming of going to college in Los Angeles, her brother had the opportunity to be adopted into a “real” family and he took it. The most important thing in her life had been her close connection to him and when that was broken, Denisse felt she would never be part of a family again. She slowly lost faith in adults, in the foster care system, and in herself. As she puts it, she fell into depression and started “messing up.”

“Being a foster kid messes with your head and a lot of us let our depression, anger, and frustration get out. You feel like you just want to get out of the system and be independent. You think, ‘Who cares what I do?’ I decided to be one of those kids who run away and not care about school.” But she quickly discovered the harsh realities of homelessness. “After you run away, you’re always scared. You’re always thinking, where am I going to go tonight? Am I going to be able to eat? How can I get clean clothes?” She also explained, “Where I live there are not a lot of programs. A lot of kids who are homeless here don’t get help.”

Homelessness among current and former foster youth is a serious national problem. Studies estimate that 20% of youth who arrive at shelters came directly from foster care, and more than 25% had been in foster care in the previous year. These youth age out of the foster care system and are discharged with no housing or income support. In fact, the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness states that one quarter of former foster youth experience homelessness within four years of exiting foster care. While many leave home as a result of a severe family conflict (which might include abuse), others like Denisse have no one to help them make a successful transition to adulthood.

“I see a lot of potential in you.”

Fortunately, Denisse’s social worker intervened—and Denisse listened. She told Denisse, “I see a lot of potential in you and I see that you are a really good person. You need to settle down, stay in a foster home, and do what you need to do to graduate and take care of yourself.” She also convinced Denisse to stay in touch with the group managing the waiting list for THP-Plus, to make sure she could keep her place.

Denisse returned to foster care and finished high school, and soon moved out on her own. Then at age 19, she discovered she was pregnant. She was renting a small room in a crowded house and barely making ends meet when her name rose to the top of the list for THP-Plus. “I knew then that I would be able to keep a roof over my baby’s head,” she remembers.

THP-Plus is designed to help youth make a successful transition to adulthood, which includes permanent stable housing and financial self-sufficiency. The youth get financial assistance plus help developing an individualized budget and savings plan, setting educational and career goals, and developing independent living skills. They also receive counseling and 24-hour crisis intervention.

“We just need to know there is somebody out there who believes in us.”

As Denisse told us, the help she got in finding a decent place to live and paying the rent were critical. But learning to think ahead is another major benefit. “This program teaches you to be smart with your money, to think about your future. The whole point is for you to be independent. They offer you a savings account and help you save. Anything you have saved at the end of the program you can keep. That was my main priority from the beginning – I had to make sure I had some type of income and peace of mind after the program was over.”

Today, Denisse has her own apartment and is working full-time. She loves being a mother and shares parenting responsibilities with her daughter’s father. He works two jobs and supports her in all of her THP-Plus activities. They plan to have a home together one day and Denisse wants to continue her education to improve her career choices and be a better role model for her daughter. All of this is possible because of the support she receives through THP-Plus.

But to Denisse, the mentoring and support from her EHC LifeBuilders case manager are just as important as the financial and life skills aspects of the program. She believes she speaks for all current and former foster kids when she says, “We just need to know there is somebody out there who cares about kids like us, who believes in us.”

About Fernando Perez

Fernando J. Perez is a video journalist and a digital media instructor at Silicon Valley De-Bug.  

This article is part of the category: Dedication 
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