In America’s Homelessness Epicenter, Local Leaders Propose Supports for Systems-Involved Youth

From left, Erika Murillo, Miracle Wilber, Supervisor Hilda Solis, Serena Skinner, DCFS Deputy Director Brandon Nichols, Elise Weinberg of the Alliance for Children’s Rights and Will Lehman of LAHSA. Photo courtesy of Los Angeles County.

Amid a seemingly intractable homelessness crisis, Los Angeles County’s Board of Supervisors proposed Tuesday to support two youth populations long known to have serious housing instability: transition-age foster youth and young people exiting the county’s juvenile justice system.

With 52,765 people living on the county’s streets, including a fast-growing population of homeless youth, the supervisors are hoping to make a dent in a problem that has been difficult for the county to manage.

The board’s motion calls on a handful of county agencies to explore creating more housing for transition-age youth, prevent discharges from transitional housing into homelessness and better track youth housing data.

Transition-age foster youth in the county are often stuck on waiting lists for housing while also pursuing jobs and educational goals, according to several youth who spoke at the meeting on Tuesday.

Miracle Wilber, a former foster youth, addresses the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors on Tuesday. Photo courtesy of Los Angeles County.

“My time in extended foster could not offer me the stability I needed,” said Miracle Wilber, a former foster youth. “I spent months without a place to live while trying to do my best at work in providing amazing customer service and trying not to cry, not knowing where I was going to stay that very night.”

Homelessness grew by 36 percent between 2010 and 2018, according to the Los Angeles County Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA). Supervisor Hilda Solis, who co-authored the motion, said that on any given night, there are about 3,306 youth experiencing homelessness in L.A. County, a number that is higher than any other state aside from California. About 31 percent of those young people are current or former foster youth and 62 percent have had a previous contact with the juvenile or criminal justice system, she said.

“It’s clear that there is an interconnected relationship between system involvement and housing instability,” Solis said.

In addition to youth involved with the county’s foster care system, the Board of Supervisors also hopes to improve housing options for a population with few resources: young people in the county exiting the juvenile justice system. “[P]rograms are not structured to serve youth exiting the probation system, who are often in dire need of housing resources,” the board motion reads.

A recently released study of California youth in extended foster care — which runs from age 18 to 21 — found that nearly one in five foster youth had experienced an episode of homelessness between the ages of 19 and 21. Thirty-six percent of foster youth also reported “couch-surfing” during that same time period.

The county’s Department of Children and Family Services has several housing programs, including the Transitional Housing Program Plus (THP-Plus), the Transitional Housing Program Plus Foster Care (THP+FC) program and the Independent Living Program (ILP). However, a board-ordered report from LAHSA found several concerning issues.

As of June 30, 2017, 25 percent of ILP beds were vacant. And the number of beds available for THP-Plus housing is very limited given the need in the county. Funded entirely by the state, THP-Plus provides up to 24 months of transitional housing to both former foster and former probation youth ages 18 to 24. At the end of June 2017, all 82 available beds were full, and the waiting list stood at 159 names.

Part of the problem is that L.A. County receives only 6 percent of statewide THP-Plus funding despite being home to about one third of all eligible youth in the state. According to a report from John Burton Advocates for Youth, 1,409 youth in L.A. County were eligible for THP-Plus in the 2017-18 fiscal year, but the county’s annual THP-Plus allocation is frozen at $2.165 million, well below smaller counties like San Diego, San Francisco and Alameda.

Through its motion, the board hopes to find a way to increase capacity in its THP-Plus program by 50 percent and its THP+FC program by at least 33 percent.

Another issue L.A. County hopes to tackle is the barriers posed by strict eligibility requirements for many transition-age foster youth housing programs.

Erika Murillo, a former foster youth who now works as a case manager for transition age foster youth at the Children’s Law Center of California, said housing is the number one issue for her clients. About a third of the 33 young people on her caseload have significant issues with housing, including homelessness. But strict age limits and program requirements make it difficult for many of her clients who are seeking to avoid ending up on the street.

“A lot of youth are turned away because of a history of substance abuse, of being 5150-ed [involuntarily detained because of concerns about severe psychiatric issues] recently,” Murillo said in an interview with The Chronicle of Social Change. “They ask youth to be stable for six months prior, but that’s very difficult for foster youth to do without housing.”

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Jeremy Loudenback, Senior Editor, The Chronicle of Social Change
About Jeremy Loudenback, Senior Editor, The Chronicle of Social Change 353 Articles
Jeremy is a West Coast-based senior editor for The Chronicle of Social Change. Reach him at