Representative Michael Turner created the “Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act” as a direct result of meeting with Ohio foster care youth during their annual Three Days on the Hill trips to Washington, D.C.
The Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act is not just a good idea, it’s necessary. The time is now to make this act a reality. It offers a creative solution to help, with no additional spending required, by a) allowing foster care youth who are at risk of “aging out” of foster care to apply for housing assistance when they reach 16 years old, and b) allowing them to jump to the front of the waitlist when they are about to “age out” of foster care.
Although the bill may be largely symbolic at this point, with a new Congress stepping in come January, as a foster care alumnus. I still think it’s important to express my utmost support for the bill.
I am a playwright and actor who has traveled the country for the last seven years, chronicling my experience in the foster care system in an effort to raise awareness and funds for organizations fighting for the rights of foster youth. Along the way, I’ve taught writing workshops for foster youth, given speeches on the cause and educated thousands of people who formerly had little or no knowledge of a system responsible for nearly half a million children in the United States.
I “aged out” of foster care in 2004, and was accepted into college at 17 years old. College was my conduit to a healthy and successful adulthood. When I left for university at age 17, I figured I was well on my way and that my most difficult years were behind me. I underestimated how hard it would be to work several jobs while taking a full-time course load in a major that required countless hours spent in rehearsal outside of class.
There were many months where I barely made rent, needed to borrow money or take out extra loans to scrape by. Mind you, I’m lucky because I was within the bubble of the university. Many foster youth emancipate into the world with no employment, no education plan and nowhere to stay. Does this set them up for success? Does this set our society up for success by sending our children out to become homeless or incarcerated?
Luckily, I was never homeless. There were close calls. During my freshman year, I had my first near-miss with homelessness. For winter recess, the university shut down the dormitories and instructed all the students to go home to their families. Fortunately, my most recent foster family insisted I come stay with them. For that I am thankful. Had they not offered, who knows what I would have done.
“Survival” may sound like a skill, but it is a way of life. Surviving makes it nearly impossible to concentrate on anything. The child abuse and neglect that often put children in the foster care system in the first place are emotionally damaging. Working through these experiences is a daunting, sensitive and often painful process. Going through that process while attending university and working several jobs is difficult. Going through that process while homeless, attempting to find housing, or facing unemployment or possibly incarceration is nearly impossible.
I graduated university with honors. I cultivated a community of support in my classmates, teachers, friends and family and was able to make my way through my education to earn my Bachelor’s degree. Today, I’m a professional actor, playwright and composer with a solid network of friends, family and support. I jump at any chance I get to raise awareness for foster youth and give voice to the voiceless through my artistic endeavors.
Even with that success, there have been too many times since my emancipation when work was scarce and housing options limited. I’ve slept on couches, shamefully asked for help with rent and taken jobs only because they included housing.
Our young brothers and sisters don’t want a handout; they want a hand up so that they can build a positive life. To benefit from this proposed legislation, foster care alumni will be required to demonstrate that they are employed, pursuing higher education, or engaged in workforce development or vocational training.
Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act can help foster care alumni build skills, independence and fiscal and individual strength.
This act has my full support.
By Patrick Burns
Written By Chronicle Of Social Change
Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act: A Necessary Step to Protect Those Aging Out was originally published @ The Chronicle of Social Change and has been syndicated with permission.