Thursday, June 11, 2020

Ohio foster care youth and alumni featured as Humans of HUD

Ohio foster care youth and alumni are honored to be featured as Humans of HUD:
Each of the individuals listed below is one of 60 former foster youth representing ACTION Ohio and the OHIO YAB, who traveled to DC between 2013 and 2019 to partner with the National Center for Housing and Child Welfare (NCHCW) in pursuing national solutions for young people aging out of the foster care system and at risk of homelessness. In March 2019, ACTION Ohio and NCHCW met directly with Secretary Carson to present a proposal to house former foster youth. Within four months of their meeting, Secretary Carson launched the Foster to Youth Independence initiative, providing housing vouchers to public housing authorities to prevent and end homelessness among young adults who recently left the foster care system without a home. Since July 2019, HUD has awarded $5.4 million and 654 vouchers nationwide to assist young adults.

[Natasha from Ohio]
Natasha
Ohio
"When I traveled to Washington, D.C. to meet with Secretary Carson, I wanted to help lay a foundation to improve housing outcomes for my brothers and sisters. I wanted to help map out housing solutions for young people aging out of foster care. My biggest fear growing up was becoming homeless. Knowing I would have an opportunity to advocate for individuals that were just like me, made this my lifelong mission. My advice to youth leaving the foster care system - be your own best advocate. Only you can make the choice to know your value, share your voice, be a voice for yourself and then become a voice for others."

[Michael from Ohio]
Ohio

"I had traveled with ACTION Ohio several times over the years to propose housing solutions with my fellow brothers and sisters. The meeting with Secretary Ben Carson made me feel like our solutions for the first time were being recognized and that validated our efforts. As someone who has struggled with housing insecurity, it makes me hopeful to see housing authorities across America working with child welfare agencies creating FYI [Foster Youth to Independence] programs to serve other foster youth. I know housing resources are scarce and what makes me most proud about FYI is that it does not disenfranchise other vulnerable populations. No one gets bumped down on the waitlist for housing because of our efforts. I felt inspired to become involved because of the support and encouragement I experience from my chosen family. If not for the support of my chosen family and countless people along the way, I would never have made it. I wanted to continue to pay it forward to others so that they do not have to struggle in the same ways I did. My advice to youth leaving the foster care system - surround yourselves with people who believe in your greatness. No one succeeds alone, it takes a village to become stable. Find folks who encourage you to pursue your goals and can be there to help you when you need it."
[Kimberly from Ohio]
Kimberly
Ohio
"My time in DC meeting with Secretary Carson meant so much to me because we were doing more than just calling for change. We were helping to design a way to make that happen. As a former foster youth who has experienced homelessness at various stages in my life, this issue is incredibly personal for me. I'm deeply proud of the countless number of foster youths, who have demonstrated tremendous courage by using their voices to be the driving force that brought about this program. My advice to youth leaving the foster care system - you aren't defined by your past experiences. You are worthy of love, respect, and taking up space on this earth."
[Marcus from Ohio]
Marcus
Ohio
"When I traveled to Washington, DC to discuss and propose housing solutions with Secretary Carson and legislators, it was one of the most meaningful things that I had ever done. It was an amazing opportunity to speak directly with the decision makers and create thoughtful change that would positively affect foster youth. I was inspired to help after visiting a statewide meeting. It was my first exposure to a platform that truly gave me a step to stand on and a microphone for my voice to be heard. Being a teenager in foster care your life is dictated by policy. These organizations [ACTION Ohio] gave me the opportunity to address flawed policies on a local and statewide level. This is where I was able to begin advocating for housing solutions and many other issues that foster youth experience during foster care and after emancipation. My advice for someone leaving foster care is - to be bold in everything you do. Be the best version of yourself and never accept the unacceptable."
[Lisa from Ohio]
Lisa
Ohio
"When I aged out of foster care in 1989, there was no plan for my future. I started college at age 16 and was homeless within a year. At age 18, I moved into a dorm, and having housing helped me move forward and earn a Master's degree. Upon hearing from foster youth that this struggle was still happening, I wanted to empower them to share their insights to make a change. I am honored to have played a role in mobilizing my brothers and sisters of the system, and deeply proud of each of them. I am grateful with all my heart that HUD listens to those with lived experience, and in awe of how quickly Secretary Ben Carson moved forward to make FYI [Foster Youth to Independence] vouchers a national reality. What inspires me most about our group is the focus on coming up with proactive solutions. Statistics tell a story, and we can improve outcomes by addressing the factors that perpetuate them. Each of my brothers and sisters of the foster care system throughout the country have the ability to generate positive change. My advice to youth leaving the foster care system is to seek out trustworthy people and let them know when you need help. There are amazing allies out there and partnering with them can only improve our effectiveness."

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

2020 HUD Regional Roundtable and Plans for Moving FYI Forward

 

Link to video that shares HUD's plans for moving FYI forward.

ACTION Ohio and the National Center for Housing and Child Welfare were honored to work with Rosa Ailabouni, Senior Advisor to the Regional Administrator, HUD Region V to help plan a virtual roundtable on May 28, 2020.

Youth Speaker Bios:
  • Former foster youth Ciara Richey received an FUP voucher at age 21, which made it possible for her to continue to pursue higher education. She is currently working two jobs and attending Ohio University Zanesville. She is close to receiving a Bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice, after which she plans to enter the Columbus Police Academy in order to become a private detective.
  • Former foster youth Desaray Lavery works full-time at Arby's. She will be using an FYI voucher to move into her new apartment next month. The new apartment is close to her job, and will allow her to have a dog and work as a groomer.

Additional Speakers During the Roundtable:
  • Joseph GalvanRegional Administrator, US Dept of Housing and Urban Development, Region V
  • Elizabeth DarlingCommissioner, Administration on Children, Youth and Families (ACYF) U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
  • Kara Wente, Assistant Director of Health and Human Services at the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services 
  • Chris Patterson, Regional Administrator, US Dept of Housing and Urban Development, Region IX
  • Joaquin Cintron VegaPresident and CEO, Lucas Metropolitan Housing Authority
  • Sonja NelsonAssistant Vice President of Resident Initiatives, Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority
  • Cassie Snyder, Associate Director of Youth Transition Services, Franklin County Children Services
  • Brianna MooreSocial Service Worker, Portage County Job and Family Services
  • Travena KaminskiSection 8 Assistant Manager, Portage County Housing Authority

Saturday, May 16, 2020

2020 CDF Ohio Webinar: Cultivating Opportunities for Youth




Cloe Cooper, Joshua Hatch, Talia Holmes, Michael Outrich and Destiny Higgins did a wonderful job during yesterday's webinar.

Here's a link to watch the video.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

'A sigh of relief:' Advocates applaud Ohio's governor for providing safety net for those aging out of foster care



Youth advocates are breathing a sigh of relief after Ohio's governor announced the state will cover the costs of those aging out of the foster care system.

Governor DeWine thanked OHIO Youth Advisory Board for coming up with this plan.

On April 25, 2020, 10TV news interviewed Talia Holmes, president of the FCCS Youth Advisory Board. She knows firsthand what it's like to be in foster care.

"You're always having to worry about making sure you're presenting yourself in the best way, so the person you're with wants to keep you," Holmes said. "[You want to make sure] you're not put into another situation that may not be as good as the one you may be leaving from."

Holmes said this is a step to ensure Ohio's most vulnerable are set up for success. "It's providing them that extra leverage to be able to make steps securely so that they are able to be successful in society," she said.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Thank you, Governor DeWine



Quotes from Governor DeWine's Press Conference on April 24, 2020:
 Gov. Mike DeWine announced the state will continue to cover the costs for youth in foster care who are turning 18 during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to DeWine, more than 200 people will “age out” of Ohio’s foster care system in the next three months.

“For many of these young people, their future looks uncertain because of COVID-19, whether their plan was to start a career or pursue higher education. This program will provide them with a safety net during these difficult times,” DeWine said.

This option is also available for those in the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services’ Bridges program, which is foster care to age 21. DeWine said those in Bridges can stay in the program to help them maintain their housing, jobs, and education.

“These changes will ensure that no child leaves care during this pandemic without a safe place to call home. I encourage county children services agencies, juvenile courts, and the foster youth themselves to take advantage of this new opportunity,” he said.

During his daily briefing, DeWine thanked Ohio’s Youth Advisory Board for coming up with this plan.


Message to Ohio Public Children Services Directors on April 24, 2020:

Dear Directors,

Here is some additional information regarding the announcement you heard from Governor DeWine today at the press conference regarding children aging out of foster care and Bridges.

Foster Care: To ensure adequate transition planning and delivery of needed services to foster children, increased flexibility has been instituted within the Multi-System Youth allocation. These funds can now be used to support the cost of extended placement and supports for any youth aging out from any placement setting through June 30, 2020. These funds can be used to pay for supports that were expended as of the March 22, 2020 Stay at Home order.

Please refer to Procedure Letter 349: Foster Youth Not Aging Out for additional information about utilizing these funds to support these youth.

Bridges: In addition, please note that Bridges funding has also been extended to support young adults who turned or will turn 21 through June 30, 2020. Again, these funds can be used to pay for supports that were expended as of the March 22, 2020 Stay at Home order.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Birthday wishes for OHIO YAB President Samantha Dillon


Today's April statewide meeting of the OHIO Youth Advisory Board had to be canceled, due to COVD-19, but youth leaders are still working tirelessly behind the scenes.

We had been planning to have a birthday cake for Sam at today's meeting.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Open Letter to Governor Mike DeWine



Open Letter to Governor DeWine from the OHIO Youth Advisory Board and ACTION Ohio, with three requests:

1.) Expedite the timeline for establishing a statewide Foster Youth Ombudsman’s Office.

2.) Extend Chafee supports to age 23, as authorized by the federal Family First Act.

3.) Suspend emancipation proceedings for all youth facing release from foster care for six months, allow re entry for foster youth younger than 21, and allow youth who reach the age of 21 in extended foster care (Bridges) to remain in care through October 30, 2020.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Appreciation for Chancellor Randy Gardner


The OHIO Youth Advisory Board is grateful for Chancellor Randy Gardner of the Ohio Department of Higher Education.

He and his staff have reached out to Ohio colleges and universities to remind them about vulnerable populations on their campuses for whom the dorm might be their only home (including former foster youth).

He personally took the time yesterday to circle back with key decision makers on campus to encourage them that their messaging about dorms shutting down should also include supportive messaging for young people for whom their dorm on campus is their only home.

So far, the list of Ohio colleges are closing their dorms includes:

- Antioch College
- Cedarville University
- Central State University
- Denison University
- Hiram College
- Hocking College
- Kenyon College
- Lake Erie College
- Marietta College
- Muskingum University
- Oberlin College
- The Ohio State University
- Ohio University
- Ohio Wesleyan University
- Ursuline College
- Xavier University
- Wilmington College
- Youngstown State University

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

FYI Combats Homelessness Among Former Foster Youth


HUD Program Combats Homelessness Among Former Foster Youth
Irene Luo and Jan Jekielek, The Epoch Times, February 25, 2020. 

Every year, over 20,000 foster youth age out of the foster care system. Around 25 percent of them become homeless within four years of exiting foster care, according to the National Center for Housing and Child Welfare (NCHCW). Others, although not homeless, might nonetheless be living day-to-day in a motel, vehicle, or with friends or relatives.

The Foster Youth to Independence (FYI) initiative, launched last year, seeks to end this pipeline from foster care to homelessness.

A group of current and former foster care youth with ACTION Ohio spent six years researching the problem and consulting housing experts to find a solution.
 In March 2019, they pitched their proposal to Secretary Ben Carson of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Just four months later, the FYI program was live.

“You can imagine what that’s like at the tender point in your life, not having the security of a place to call home,” Sec. Ben Carson said in an interview with The Epoch Times for the “American Thought Leaders” program. Such foster youth “can be tremendous contributors to our society, and we need to make sure that we give them a solid foundation from which to launch.” 

Since the start of the program in late July, HUD has awarded over $2.4 million in funding for FYI, which helps former foster youth cover the cost of their rent for up to three years after they stop being supported by the foster care system. Each public housing authority can award up to 25 vouchers per year.

So far, the funding has provided housing subsidies for 497 former foster care youth across the country. The latest round of funding was announced on Feb. 6, with $258,606 going to public housing authorities in seven states. The FYI program is available to foster youth between 18 and 23 years old who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless after aging out of the system. In addition to housing subsidies, it also provides other forms of guidance and job support to help them become self-sufficient. ‘

An Anxious Time’ 
Aging out is “an anxious time” said former foster youth Adaora Onuora. “There’s so many things going through your head.”

When you’re in the system, it’s easy to take housing for granted, Onuora said. But by the last year, “the social workers are kind of banging it into your head,” she said. “What are you going to do? Where can you go? What resources do you have? What family do you have?”

The FYI program is an extension of the Family Unification Program (FUP), which also helps former foster youth avoid homelessness. But FUP is only available to 280 of the approximately 3,400 total public housing authorities in America.

“It wasn’t anywhere near sufficient enough to deal with this problem,” said Sec. Carson. 

After jumping through bureaucratic hoops, Onuora was fortunate to receive a housing voucher with FUP just a few weeks before her 21st birthday.

Onuora has been a vocal advocate of the FYI initiative, with the hope that the housing vouchers she was fortunate to gain access to could be universalized across America for all foster youth aging out of the system. 

Jamole Callahan, a former foster youth and one of the founders of ACTION Ohio, told The Epoch Times: “Out of all the years we’ve been meeting with HUD, Secretary Carson was the first sitting secretary we physically met with.”

“He was the first one that sat down and had an honest conversation with us,” Callahan said. “As one of my sisters in care said it, we are cutting off the spigot of aging youth out into homelessness with this program,” Callahan said.

According to Ruth Anne White, Executive Director of the NCHCW and one of the main advocates for the FYI program, Sec. Carson “heard their proposal, and essentially said, this is fundable. It’s within my authority. It doesn’t require action from Congress. Let’s move.” 

“I’ve never seen anything move at that speed absent something like a natural disaster,” said White, who has worked on affordable housing policy for two decades in DC.

When the program was originally designed, it included a requirement that participants work or attend school, but this was later removed due to criticism from poverty advocates. But the program is nonetheless built with the idea of being a stepping stone to self-sufficiency, “in a similar way that we would treat our own children,” White said. “This is the only voucher that’s time-limited in HUD’s entire portfolio,” White said.

Bipartisan Bill 
While FYI makes housing vouchers far more accessible to former foster youth than before, certain limitations still remain. Only public housing authorities that are not participating in FUP can apply for the new FYI program. But unlike FYI, FUP is a competitive resource, meaning the funds may not be available to everyone and may not be available immediately when a foster child ages out of the system.

“We just kind of have to go through this limbo with the youth as they’re aging out in that last year to find out whether it’ll be available for them,” Onuora said. If they’re unlucky, they’re stuck on waiting lists for years. But that gap could be closed soon with a bipartisan bill that White, Callahan, and Onuora hope will pass in Congress.

The Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act would guarantee a housing voucher for foster care youth when they age out if they demonstrate need for it. The bill unanimously passed in the House and is under consideration in the Senate. 

Onuora is currently double majoring in criminal justice and communications at Bowie State University, a historically black college. After that, she plans to head to law school. “My calling is law. I want to be a politician, and I want to make changes for my community,” Onuora said.  

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Letter to the Editor: Thank you, Governor, for standing by foster youth


As published in the Columbus Dispatch on February 15, 2020, page 10B, Section: Editorial and Opinion, Column: Letters to the Editor:

The OHIO Youth Advisory Board and ACTION Ohio serve as the statewide voices of foster care youth and alumni. We read over the Initial Findings Report by the Governor’s Office of Children Services Transformation with interest.

We are deeply grateful to Gov. Mike DeWine for the continued commitment he demonstrates in caring about foster youth and elevating the voices of youth and alumni by including our voices in these initiatives.

Testimony by our members during the recent foster care forums reflected the top three priorities that we as the firsthand consumers of foster care have identified: the creation of Foster Youth Ombudsman’s Office, better independent living and normalcy practices, and preserving sibling connections.

These priorities directly impact the immediate experiences, long-term outcomes and emotional well-being of young people.

As the council works toward making its final recommendations, it is our hope that all who bear this great responsibility continue to uphold the work that Governor DeWine has long championed — ensuring that voices of youth and alumni are not overlooked.

Lisa Dickson, Westerville

P.S. One sentence was omitted by the paper for brevity, but I think it’s important, so I’m adding it here:

The definition of “transformation” is a thorough and dramatic change. We believe in Ohio’s capability to achieve metamorphosis and move beyond business as usual.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

National Advocacy in 2020

Link to more photos


In 2020, Ohio will be facilitating multiple trips to DC in order to continue to support and celebrate FYI vouchers, and to seek to #BringFSHOHome

Our February trip included:
  • Meeting with Heather Zenone, Senior Policy Director for Representative Karen Bass of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth 
  • Dinner with Chris Patterson, Regional Administrator at U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Region IX 
  • Meeting at HUD Headquarters with Danielle Bastarache, Director of HUD’s Housing Choice Voucher program, and others 
  • Meetings with Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), Senator Mike Crapo (Idaho) and Senator Chuck Grassley (Iowa) who introduced the Senate version of the Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act 
  • Meeting with the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials 
  • Participation in the 2nd annual National Association of Realtors Conference 
  • Participation in an Open House at the national headquarters of the Children’s Defense Fund 
The Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act (HR 4300) passed unanimously in the House of Representatives on November 18, 2019. In the meantime, a partner bill (that mirrors this one) has been introduced in the United States Senate.

Please visit this link to learn more about the history of the Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act.

We welcome foster care youth, alumni and allies from throughout the nation to take the time to write letters of support to your U.S. Senator and sign the online petition for this national opportunity.