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College Foster Youth Face Homelessness

Just three weeks ago, California voters passed two propositions expected to battle homelessness in our community. With tent encampments growing in cities across the area and people lining up as early as 8:00 am for a shelter bed, it’s clear that homelessness has reached a watershed moment in California.

What’s perhaps less obvious is that homelessness is a deepening problem for college students. Once they turn 18, many no longer receive financial support from their parents. Stretching their dollars means having to choose between paying for classes and books, or housing and food. For foster youth in college, this choice is a daily battle.

It’s easy to assume once you’ve made it to the doors of higher education, all you’ve got to do is study hard, attend class, and stay focused. But, a recent study of university and community college students by the Wisconsin HOPE Lab found that more than one third of the students they surveyed are housing or food insecure. The findings for former foster youth are even more alarming: 60% were housing insecure and one in four had experienced homelessness in the past year.

When foster youth age out of the system at age 18, they’re told to pack their belongings and leave the only home they have. With no family to turn to, no financial resources, and no place to go, the financial burden can be overwhelming. Many are still struggling with mental health issues from the trauma of living through foster care. To make matters worse, 75% have no work experience, which makes securing employment extremely difficult.

In the face of skipped meals and uncertain housing, these amazing students continue to attend class, study, and persist toward earning a degree. All the while, they juggle jobs and navigate the myriad stresses of life – essentially alone. Without support from their community, most of these students will drop out of college because the odds that are stacked against them will win. Only 3% of foster youth earn a bachelor’s degree. We are changing that. 

When college youth work with us, they truly thrive. Our dedicated coaches see them through freshman year all the way to graduation. We offset their living expenses with scholarships, so they can focus on schoolwork.  And, we get them prepared for the workforce, by training them to dress and act professionally or teaching them office skills that will help them shine in their paid summer internships.  And, we graduate them from college at 10x the national average for foster youth.

We all know that college students should be focused on getting good grades and planning for their future, instead of wondering whose car or couch they'll sleep in. When we give foster youth the tools they need to succeed in life, they make great things happen. It’s up to our community to help them achieve their dreams of career success and financial self-sufficiency.