Ben Carson Unveils Major Stable Housing Initiative for Former Foster Youth

Journey House Fellows, Eli Ramo, Rafael Espino, and Keandre Lee brief Ben Carson at a roundtable discussion at Milwaukee’s Journey House. Carson announced a stable housing initiative for youth aging out of foster care. Photo: Ruth White.

Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson made official today an initiative that offers youth aging out of foster care a path to stable housing within the nation’s public housing network.

Carson announced the Foster Youth to Independence (FYI) initiative, which was initially proposed to HUD by a group of current and former foster youth, at an event at the nonprofit Journey House Community Center in Milwaukee.

Carson, at Journey House in Milwaukee, announcing the Foster Youth to Independence initiative.

“About 20,000 youngster age out of foster care each year, an about a quarter of those, sometime in the next four years will become homeless,” said Carson. “This is an opportunity to intervene there very significantly.”

Under FYI, child welfare agencies can begin planning to transition a youth from the housing offered by foster care to supportive housing funded through HUD vouchers, complemented by self-sufficiency supports offered by HUD.

A former foster youth is eligible for the initiative from age 18 to 24. Once he or she moved on to other housing, the voucher would recycle back for use with another foster youth.

The idea was conceived of and brought to HUD by the Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities (FSHO) Coalition, whose members met in early March with Carson and other HUD officials. Carson was immediately receptive to the proposal, and HUD began the process of vetting it through its Office of Legal Counsel.

“We knew we had the right solution, but we were desperate for the federal government to share our sense of urgency – and HUD leadership most certainly did and as such, they’ve moved as swiftly as they can,” said White. “It’s been an incredible few months – unlike anything I’ve seen in two decades’ worth of federal advocacy.”

Under FYI, a child welfare agency would file paperwork with HUD for what’s called a Family Unification Voucher in the months before a youth aged out. That youth would be tied into HUD’s Family Self-Sufficiency Support program as well, which means the voucher could last up to five years. Click here for a more in-depth look at how the initiative would work.

The need for housing supports for foster youth is critical. Anywhere from 20,000 to 25,000 youth age out of care each year in America, and 28 percent experience homelessness by age 21, according to the National Youth in Transition Database. In some states, it’s above 40 percent.

In a recent study based on interviews with 215 young adults who experienced unaccompanied homelessness as youths, foster care was identified as a major factor. Ninety-four out of the 215 interviewees had a history in foster care; of that group of 94, nearly half said entrance into foster care was the “beginning of their housing instability.”

The FSHO Coalition is working with Congress to pass legislation that would enshrine the initiative in law. A bill sponsored by Reps. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) and Karen Bass (D-Calif.), with a companion bill in the Senate, has gained the approval of House Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-Calif.).

“These young people earned a seat at the table due to the sophisticated nature of their proposal,” said Ruth White, executive director of the National Center for Housing and Child Welfare. “This should surprise no one – foster youth will always arrive at the best policy solution because they have a unique and hard-won vantage point from which to understand social problems.”

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John Kelly
About John Kelly 1128 Articles
John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change.