Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Roman Sandhu and Jonathan Thomas in the Columbus Dispatch


Help available to youths aging out of foster care amid pandemic
Megan Henry, Columbus Dispatch, February 9, 2020.

Roman Sandhu entered foster care  when he was 15 and was emancipated after he graduated from Findlay High School in northwest Ohio in 2019. He said the foster care provisions in the relief package passed by Congress in December will help emancipated young people like himself.

After aging out of foster care when he was 18, Jonathon Thomas was homeless for about a half-year, couch-surfing at his friends' homes.

“I had no biological family,” he said. “I just had nothing.”

Thomas eventually reconnected with the foster family that he had lived with in Bowling Green in northwest Ohio for about two years, but he wishes he had more support in making the transition to living on his own.

More:Dave Thomas Foundation aims to match every foster child with a forever family

“When you find yourself making mistakes, as all young people do, and then there’s nothing for you … you’ll give up on yourself,” said the now-25-year-old. “You give up on life. You think nobody cares.”

Helping foster youth transition into independent living

Two measures intended to help foster care youth — the Supporting Foster Youth and Families through the Pandemic Act and Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act — were included in the Consolidated Appropriations Act 2021 signed by then-President Donald Trump in late December.

The $2.3 trillion spending bill combines $900 billion in stimulus relief for the COVID-19 pandemic with a $1.4 trillion omnibus spending bill for the 2021 federal fiscal year.

The measures were passed at a time when more than half of Americans under 30 have moved back home with their parents, something many of these young adults who aged out of the foster care system can't do.

The Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act allows foster care youth to sign up for public housing assistance before they turn 18. 

Jonathon Thomas entered foster care in northwest Ohio in 2010 when he was 14. He said he wishes there was more guidance and assistance  to help him with the transition to adulthood when he was aging out of foster care.

The hope is it will allow for more places to open like the Marsh Brook Place, a 40-unit apartment complex on the Southeast Side for young people ages 18 to 24 who have faced homelessness or other serious barriers to stability, said Rep. Steve Stivers, a Columbus Republican and co-sponsor of the bipartisan act. Sen. Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat, also sponsored the bill.

All or most of the rent for each tenant at Marsh Brook Place, depending on whether they have any income, is covered through federal subsidies.

About 25% of former foster youths experience homelessness within four years of being emancipated from the foster care system, according to the National Foster Youth Initiative, headquartered in Los Angeles.

Almost 1,000 young people age out of foster care each year in Ohio, according to the Children's Defense Fund-Ohio. In Franklin County, 178 youths emancipated out of foster care in 2020, according to Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.

The act would allow foster kids who age out of the system to receive a public housing voucher for up to five years, allowing them to get on their feet and find a job or go to college as they make a transition to an independent adult life.

“I believe with these resources that each and every foster youth will be able to navigate themselves successfully throughout adulthood,” Thomas said.

What would Supporting Foster Youth and Families do?

Supporting Foster Youth and Families would also help older foster youth struggling during the pandemic. Under the provision:

  • States cannot require someone to leave foster care due to turning 18 or 21.

  • States must notify young people about the moratorium on aging out of foster care and how to reconnect with support services. 

  • States can provide extended foster care — such as Bridges, Ohio’s extended foster care program, using IV-E funds until they turn 22. Bridges provides some guidance and support for 18- to 20-year-olds who are emancipated from foster care and are in school, working or participating in an employment program.

  • A temporary increase in federal Chafee funding to support current and former foster youth in their transition to adulthood. Former foster youth are eligible for Chafee until they turn 27 and funds can be used for immediate needs, including housing, food support, and cash assistance.

“The aging out process is really a tough period for foster children,” said Rep. Danny Davis, an Illinois Democrat and sponsor of the bill. “You’re too young in some instances to be considered a certain way and yet if you age out, you no longer have the protection of government entities.”

The provisions, however, are set to expire at the end of the federal fiscal year on Sept. 30.

"As long as COVID-19 exists and it’s having the impact of everything that it is impacted, we want to keep these children in the safety zone in the safety net," Davis said.

Roman Sandhu is now able to stay with Ohio's Bridges Programs until he is 22.

“Having a relief package like that was a big boost to my morale," said the 20-year-old. “It’s very comforting and it’s a lot of relief and stress off my shoulders."

Sandhu entered the foster care system when he was 15and emancipated after he graduated from Findlay High School in northwest Ohio in 2019. 

“It was a pretty major adjustment,” he said.

Sandhu went from living in a group home with other foster youths to living on his own and having to fend for himself. When COVID-19 hit, he temporarily lost his factory job so he started dipping into his savings to make ends meet, he said.

The Bridges program has helped him save money since then and he is now attending the University of Findlay. He wants to go into law enforcement and dreams of one day becoming a deputy sheriff.

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Scholar House 3



Ohio foster care youth and alumni have been working with the Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority and Columbus State Community College since 2017 to propose and design Scholar House 3 for former foster youth pursuing higher education.

We were honored and privileged to have a voice in deciding what services would be needed, and to vote on specific elements related to building design. Here is a link to additional photos of Scholar House 3.

Columbus Scholar House 3 serves young people ages 18-24 with a foster care history. Consistent with the Scholar House model, residents of the project are expected to maintain full-time status at an accredited two or four-year College or University.

There are currently open units for residents to apply. Former foster youth ages 18-24 can fill out an interest card here and learn more about the application process here.





Friday, February 5, 2021

Transitional Housing in Toledo for Aged Out Foster Youth

OHIO YAB Ambassador Jonathan Thomas and Cloe Cooper of ACTION Ohio in the news... 


Old hotel could become apartments for those aging out of foster care
Emma Henderson, WTOL.com, Feb. 2, 2021

TOLEDO, Ohio — The historic Park Hotel in south Toledo currently sits vacant, but LMH has a plan to develop it into transitional housing for people aged out of foster care.

Boarded up with broken windows and peeling paint, the historic Park Hotel needs a lot of work, but the goal is to transform it into apartments catering to people aging out of foster care.

"Apartment complexes want a co-signer and most youth don't have a co-signer, and then many complexes want a youth to earn at least three times income," Kris Kapela-McGuckin with Lucas County Children Services said.

Getting housing is hard. According to Foster.org, half of people that age out of foster care will be unemployed, leading to half being homeless within four years.

It's something Jonathan Thomas from Bowling Green experienced firsthand and wants to prevent happening for others.

"That developmental process of when you're an adult by age, versus when you're actually an adult, is a little hard to pinpoint. Therefore housing like this becomes that much more important," Thomas said.

He and fellow foster care advocate Cloe Cooper both believe services including help obtaining GEDs, driver's licenses and applying for jobs need to be included to help set youth up on the road to permanent stability.

"What's important to that person and then connecting them to the community resources that can point them in the direction of where they can start and where they can begin their path," Cooper said.

The ordinance passed Toledo City Council Tuesday, allowing the project to move forward.

Friday, January 29, 2021

Press conference to celebrate the Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act

 


Representative Michael Turner invited foster care youth and alumni advocates from the OHIO YAB and ACTION Ohio to join him in celebrating FSHO becoming a law during a press conference on Wednesday, January 27, 2021.

The Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act mandates that federal agencies set aside housing vouchers for foster youth who age out of the system so that they no longer face homelessness. The bill, which was passed as part of the CARES Act, has requirements that the young adults must participate in training, work, or school in order to maintain the voucher.


In the words of Cloé Cooper:

Hello, my name is Cloé Cooper and I am a former foster youth who serves as an advocate to improve outcomes for my brothers and sisters in and from foster care.

It is my privilege to be a part of the collective voice of Ohio foster care youth and alumni and it is my honor today to speak on behalf on every foster youth who volunteered their time to travel to Washington D.C. To all of you who came before me, I am humbled by your tenacity and commitment to those who will come after us. 

Today, I have the honor of speaking both from my own experience and that of my siblings of the foster care system. When it comes to the historical context of this bill, Ohio foster care youth first traveled to Washington DC in March of 2013. From that very first moment, and on the very first day of legislative visits, Representative Michael Turner has been literally our very first and most authentic champion. He heard our voices and our stories, understanding that homelessness is one of the main challenges we face as we emancipate from the agencies we are assigned to. 

With the support of Mr. Turner, this life changing legislation provides on demand housing vouchers for young adults exiting foster care who are at risk of homelessness. It supersedes any barrier that once prevented our population from accessing this resource and gives former foster youth a chance to finally have a home of their own. A fair chance to build the life they deserve. 

I want to thank everyone who has supported the efforts of Ohio’s foster youth, and our nations foster youth. Those who have lived experience being involved with out of home placements can always bring understanding and solutions to the problems we face. I am filled with gratitude for those who invited us to the table to present them. I am eager to see how our countries community partners work together to make this new resource available for my brothers and sisters of care. I am confident that those who are given the ability to receive vouchers per the Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act will become the next trailblazers we need to represent and fight for the equity, equality and security of every soul touched by the child welfare system and beyond. Thank you.

In the words of Jonathan Thomas: 

Good morning. I am honored, and privileged to be here amongst you all. 

I would like to thank Congressmen Mike Turner for his continued support of emancipated foster youth all over Ohio. It can be difficult to emancipate into adulthood with no idea of what such a life should look like. But the work from this office has gone forward to pave the way for some amazing programs, that have the potential to guide our youths into successful lives.

Many people give up on you in foster care. Even more people give up on you when you emancipate foster care. Therefore, it is extremely encouraging for the moral of human decency that people continue to strive to do better for each other. A mantle that everyone here has taken up in some way, shape, or form.

May those to come observe, and take note of this day, and may they know that this was done for them. For the hope of their future. May this day encourage them, and inspire their dreams of a more positive way of life. And may they know that they are loved, hoped for, and believed in more than they can possibly imagine. Thank you.


Sunday, January 3, 2021

2020 efforts to improve statewide policy and practices by Ohio foster care youth and alumni

The Overcoming Hurdles in Ohio Youth Advisory Board (OHIO YAB) is a statewide organization of young people (aged 14-24) who have experienced foster care. The OHIO YAB exists to be the knowledgeable statewide voice that influences policies and practices that impact youth who have or will experience out of home care.


Alumni of Care Together Improving Outcomes Now Ohio is dedicated to improving outcomes for current and former foster care youth. We seek first to listen to, support, and follow up on the insights expressed by today’s foster care youth and young adults, related to barriers that negatively impact their immediate/long-term outcomes.


In 2020, we communicated regularly with Governor DeWine’s Office and his staff, and presented in-person and virtual testimony to the Children’s Services Transformation Advisory Council. Our recommendations were also captured in our Letter to the Editor of the Columbus Dispatch. We participated in Governor DeWine’s press conference to announce the Council’s final report and recommendations.


We have the utmost respect for Governor DeWine. He responded to our first and second letters proposing protections for foster youth by issuing and extending a temporary moratorium on aging out of foster care and Bridges. Foster youth throughout Ohio participated in creating a photo message of thanks.


On the date of the House Bill 8 signing, we sent a third letter to Governor DeWine to recommend that the next step forward after reducing foster parent training hours is to Make Every Training Count through specialized training tracks — especially for foster parents caring for teens. This request is directly related to our Don’t Forget to Foster Our Future Campaign.


As we continue to focus on improving outcomes after foster care, we deeply value our ongoing communication with Chancellor Randy Gardner and his staff members at the Ohio Department of Higher Education. We also continue to monitor access to Medicaid for former foster youth, and how things are moving forward now that the Mandated Reporter Bill has become state law.


Thursday, December 31, 2020

Summary of Provisions Impacting Transition Age Youth in the Recently Passed Federal Stimulus and Funding Package

The Supporting Foster Youth and Families through the Pandemic Act (H.R. 7947) includes the following: 

1.) Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act (permanent)

  • Makes the Foster Youth to Independence (FYI) program permanent in statute.
  • Extends the three-year FYI voucher term by 2 additional years for individuals participating in the Family Self- Sufficiency Program (FSS) or similar self-sufficiency activities.
  • Provides $25 million for the Family Unification Program (FUP). $20 million of these funds are for on-demand housing vouchers for young people with a foster care history.

2.) #UpChafee (effective through FY 2021)

  • Increases in Chafee funds by 400 million.
  • No state match is required for this increased Chafee allocation.
  • Youth are Chafee eligible until reaching age 27.
  • States can lift the 30% cap on room and board and provide room and board to young people who are between ages 18 years and 27 and have experienced foster care at 14 years of age or older.

3.) Education and Training Vouchers (effective through FY 2021)

  • At least 50 million of the 400 million Chafee allocation must be used for ETV.
  • The maximum ETV award is $12,000 per individual youth per year (from $5000) through FY 2022.
  • Waiver of the enrollment and satisfactory academic progress requirements (SAP) for ETV through FY 2021 if young people are unable to meet the requirement due to the pandemic.

4.) Preventing Youth from Aging out and Providing Re-Entry (effective through FY 2021)

  • A state cannot require a child to leave foster care due to turning 18/21.
  • Young people can remain IV-E eligible even if they are not able to meet the participation (work and school) requirements for extended foster care and if they are age 21.
  • States are required (“shall”) to provide re-entry to foster care to youth who aged out during the pandemic and have not attained age 22 and must facilitate the re-entry process.

5.) Provisions to Notify Young People and Streamline Access to Assistance

  • States must notify young people about expanded Chafee eligibility and services, the moratorium, and the re-entry provisions.
  • The law prohibits HHS from requiring states to provide “proof of a direct connection to the pandemic if doing so would be administratively burdensome or would otherwise delay or impede the ability of the State to serve foster youth.”

Also included: 

6.) Relief for Higher Education Institutions and Students (effective through FY 2022)

  • $22.7 billion allocated to a Higher Education Relief Fund for colleges and universities. At least half of this amount must go directly to students in the form of additional financial aid.
  • Increases the maximum Pell grant award by $150, from $6,345 to $6,495 for the 2021-2022 academic year.

7.) Streamlining the FAFSA for Youth with Experience in Foster Care and Homelessness (these provisions take effect on July 1, 2023)

  • Eliminates the requirement that the status of foster youth and unaccompanied homeless youths be redetermined every year.
  • Expands the list of officials and programs that may verify that an applicant is an unaccompanied homeless youth.
  • To verify a youth’s foster care status, institutions must accept official state documents, an electronic data match with the state agency, a documented phone call with a county agency, foster care provider, attorney or CASA, or verification that the student is eligible for a Chafee ETV grant.
  • Requires the development of a simplified FAFSA with a single question on homeless status (this part, we are curious about, because there are pro's and con's to it)

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

FSHO Senate Push



Throughout the month of December 2020, foster care youth, alumni and allies throughout the nation are invited to call their United States Senate representatives and ask them to champion the Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act of 2019 (S. 2803).  

Since 2013, Ohio foster care youth and alumni have traveled to DC each year, in partnership with Ruth Anne White and the National Center for Housing and Child Welfare to work with federal officials and HUD to design a way to weave together existing federal resources in order to eliminate the gaps through which foster youth fall into homelessness.

Ohio foster care youth literally wrote the Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act, which passed unanimously in the House of Representatives on November 18, 2019. This week, the partner bill (Senate Bill 2803) is being reviewed by the United States Senate. 

Here’s a link to an online toolkit that includes talking points, a sample letter, and other information that might be helpful.