Unlimited! That is rarely a term that is used when describing housing in California.
But unlimited is the correct term when it comes to federal housing vouchers, known as Foster Youth to Independence (FYI) vouchers, which provide affordable housing to former foster youth for up to three years. These vouchers are available “on demand” for any foster youth preparing to exit foster care.
Despite this abundance, California has been slow to utilize FYI vouchers. A total 4,000 youth “age out” of foster care annually in California, yet the state has just 238 FYI vouchers.
On February 10th, JBAY launched an effort in downtown Oakland to change this. For the next 18 months, JBAY will provide technical assistance and training to 15 county teams, which include the local county child welfare agency and public housing authority. The goal of the “learning community” is to train participants on how to access these and other vouchers and provide hands-on support to address local implementation barriers.
JBAY Youth Advocate Junely Merwin received one of the vouchers and has a first-hand perspective on the difference that they can make for youth exiting foster care. Thanks to affordable housing, Junely has had the stability to complete her college degree and is now pursuing her master’s degree at Cal State Fullerton.
JBAY Project Manager Andy Lomeli is leading the learning community at JBAY and is optimistic that the project will help foster youth make a safe, supported transition from foster care.
“The overwhelming response from our participating counties has been one of excitement,” Lomeli shared. “It’s clear that everyone in attendance is motivated and ready to take the steps needed to effectively use these vouchers and ensure that more youth find the housing they need.”
JBAY will educate participants about the two-part process: first, how to claim vouchers from the federal government and second, how to provide local housing navigation services to translate the voucher into actual housing for youth.
In addition to helping locals access and utilize these valuable vouchers, JBAY will be identifying opportunities for policy change, so that the process can move faster and be more youth-friendly.
Projects like this are a good example of how JBAY works, according to Executive Director Amy Lemley. “We help communities better serve young people and in turn, they educate us about important opportunities for policy change.”