April 18, 2024

Courage in Action: Roesella Wilhem Advocates for Foster Youth Housing

Courage in Action: Roesella Wilhem Advocates for Foster Youth Housing

Courage. It’s a noun, but in the case of Roesella Wilhem it should also be a verb.

Rose is a youth advocate at John Burton Advocates for Youth (JBAY) and a college student at American River College in North Highlands, CA, outside of Sacramento. She has been a critical part of JBAY’s efforts to preserve the Housing Navigation and Maintenance Program. This important program, which serves 1,300 former foster youth annually, has been slated for elimination in the 2024-25 state budget.

On April 9th, Rose put her courage into action and provided expert testimony at a critical budget hearing at the State Capitol. She started by sharing how her life in foster care started. “As a newborn, I was placed in the Sacramento Children’s Receiving Home because me and my twin sister were born with drugs in our system. Unfortunately for my sister, this left her permanently disabled and non-verbal.”

Rose was adopted at a young age, and entered foster care at age 17 after ensuring years of neglect and physical abuse. Foster care ended at age 21 and it left Rose alone. “As a result, I aged out of the foster care system with no permanent connections, even to my twin sister.”

She immediately began the process of securing housing and learned quickly that it would be challenging without adults to help. “I began to realize that I could not navigate all of this alone. I didn’t have family to rely on, so I had to make my housing situation work.”

Fortunately, Rose was able to receive help from a local organization that was funded by the Housing Navigation and Maintenance Program. It helped her successfully apply for a housing voucher issued by the federal government, specifically for former foster youth. The funding also provides regular supportive services.

Rose believes that the help that was provided was critical, “I would not have even known to apply for a voucher, and never would have been able to navigate that process on my own, which requires a ton of paperwork, personal document preparation, and more.”

The process isn’t over for Rose. She continues to work to utilize her voucher, which will subsidze her housing for up to five years. Even with a voucher in hand, it remains difficult to secure rental housing in a competitive market. 

Director of Housing and Health Simone Tureck Lee has been working side-by-side with Rose and praises her courage and communication skills, “Rose has really helped decision-makers understand why it is important to provide this kind of help. It takes a lot of course to share personal information and by doing it, Rose is helping thousands of young people who face the same challenge” 

JBAY, with the help of Rose, will continue its efforts to preserve the Housing Navigation and Maintenance Program through the budget season. Rose understands how high the stakes are for former foster youth. “For young adults like me who come through the foster care system, we don’t have the parental or other family guidance to help in times like these, not to mention financial support. The Housing Navigation and Maintenance Program helps ensure that even though we don’t have these supports, we don’t end up homeless.”