It’s difficult and traumatizing for anyone to be homeless. But young people who are homeless have a unique set of trauma and needs.
This year’s Greater LA Homeless Count showed that more than 4,000 transition-age youth (ages 18-24) experience homelessness on any given night in LA County, a startling 22 percent increase over the previous year.
According to a July 31, 2019 report updated this month by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), nearly 6,700 youth became homeless over the course of 2018 — a rate of inflow even higher than that of adults.
LAHSA’s data team also reported that approximately 29 percent of LA’s homeless youth come out of the foster care system. And at least 62 percent have been involved in the justice system.
When it comes to the county’s justice-involved kids, researchers further found that a significant number of young people “stay in custody longer than necessary due to a lack of housing options upon their intended exit,” reported William Lehman, Coordinated Entry System Manager, Los Angeles Homelessness Services Authority, when he looked at the painful dilemma of LA’s homeless youth a year ago.
“They also exit public systems like child welfare or juvenile justice without connections to safe and stable housing and/or become unstably housed shortly after they’ve exited,” Lehman said. “It’s clear — there is an interconnected relationship between system involvement and housing instability, and this relationship most adversely impacts young people. In LA County, the scale is substantial.”
These last two facts, according to LAHSA, highlight the need for specialized support for these two populations if they are to overcome barriers to housing and self-sufficiency.
LA’s countywide homeless services are making progress with the issue of homeless youth. Yet, the progress is not nearly enough, say experts. Although LA County housed more young people in 2018 than ever before, the system has reportedly been unable to catch up as more youth continue to slip below the line — particularly those who have been involved with the LA County’s foster care system or its juvenile justice system — or worst of all, both of those county systems.
The Board of Supervisors makes a move
Last Tuesday, November 12, the LA County Board of Supervisors approved a 2-part action that they hope will at least help one of those groups, namely youth who are “aging out” of the child welfare system. First, the board increased transitional housing for kids emerging from foster care, by nearly $9.5 million which will add 237 transitional beds for this vulnerable population.
“Youth transitioning out of foster care have often experienced significant trauma throughout their young lives,” said Supervisor Hilda Solis in a statement about the board’s move. “Coupled with supportive services, housing can make the difference between homelessness and a happy and healthy life.”
Last November, Supervisor Solis authored a motion directing the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) and the Probation Department to create more housing for transition-age youth (TAY). Among other directives, the motion ordered the creation of 33 percent more transitional housing spaces for youth ages 18 to 21 in foster care, and a 50 percent increase in transitional housing for youth 18 to 25 previously in foster care.
The board’s more recent action increased funding for the TAY foster care graduates from $21,140,320 to $29,557,000, which translates to an increase from 533 beds to 709 beds (33 percent). For youth 18 to 25 previously in foster care, funding will be increased from $2,165,106 to $3,247,659, resulting in an increase from 82 beds to 123 beds (50 percent).
“No one chooses to be homeless,” Ely Sepulveda, a Safe Place for Youth’s Youth Coordinated Entry System regional coordinator, said of the LAHSA report. “There are many institutional failures and societal failures that push people into this situation—racism, poverty, family relationships, affordability, sexual orientation. These are societal breakdowns and we need to work together to address them and build a healthier, more equitable society.”
In LA’s case, there is still a long way to go before the county can ensure that no young person experiences homelessness when they exit the county’s child welfare and/or juvenile and criminal justice systems.
Top photo via My Friend’s Place