Contra Costa County is breaking new ground.
In September, Contra Costa County received its first ever allocation of specialized housing choice vouchers from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The specialized vouchers, known as Foster Youth to Independence (FYI) vouchers, are intended to prevent homelessness among youth who “age out” of foster care. Contra Costa County was the only California jurisdiction to receive the award in this allotment.
Contra Costa County is one of 16 counties participating in a project led by John Burton Advocates for Youth (JBAY) to increase utilization of these specialized housing vouchers. Participating counties receive one-on-one consultation from JBAY together with semi-monthly training to learn how to administer the program.
JBAY’s two-year effort is funded by the Walter S. Johnson Foundation and Tipping Point. For JBAY, the main goal of the project is to help foster youth make a safe, supported transition by helping local communities access these new vouchers.
A total of $25 million is available for the program annually. Unlike most federal programs, these vouchers are available “on-demand,” allowing communities to request a voucher when a youth presents with a housing need.
Project Manager Andy Lomeli is leading the effort at JBAY and has worked closely with the Contra Costa County partners. “Contra Costa has done an amazing job. I’m just so impressed by the way so many different stakeholders have been able to come together under a unified purpose to build out an infrastructure that will successfully serve so many youth moving forward.””
Tony Ucciferri serves as the Special Assistant to the Executive Director of the Housing Authority of the County of Contra Costa, the agency responsible for applying for vouchers from HUD and for distributing vouchers to youth. According to Ucciferri, the initial award will assist three households, and the agency has since submitted ten additional FYI applications to HUD.
“We are thrilled to be able to have access to this opportunity through HUD and re-igniting our relationship with [Children and Family Services] and continuing to work with our partner, Hope Solutions on yet another housing opportunity,” Ucciferri said. “This is a population that is largely forgotten, and we are excited to see HUD making this funding available to assist foster youth aging out of the Human Services System and not render them homeless.”
Don Graves is the Program Coordinator for the Independent Living Skills Program within Contra Costa County’s Children and Family Services Department, the agency that makes youth referrals to FYI.
“Receiving the HUD award for the FYI vouchers is huge for the Contra Costa County foster care community, though achieving permanency for every youth remains a goal of our Children and Family Services Department, the reality for those young adults that don’t achieve permanency, remains a focal point of the Independent Living Skills program, and these vouchers provide a relief, in terms of financial support for housing for our most vulnerable youth transitioning out of the foster care system in this county,” Graves said.
With the first awards in hand, the next step is taking the effort to scale. Much more is needed, according to a 2023 count of homeless youth in Contra Costa County. It found that Contra Costa County experienced a 21% increase in transition-age youth accessing services during the four year period, 2018 to 2022.
According to JBAY Housing and Health Director Simone Tureck Lee, Contra Costa County’s shared commitment to youth is the key to their success.
“Contra Costa County is putting the needs of youth first, with a prevention lens. They understand that if we help young people remain safely housed as they transition out of foster care, we can avoid the trauma of homelessness.”