When Aja Dunlap learned about a new foster care placement designed to give young people more autonomy, it sounded like a good idea. It would allow her to choose where she wanted to live and would pay her the foster care rate directly. To Aja, it sounded like a good mix of financial support and independence.
“When I was 18 years old, I had been accepted to college and was entering extended foster care. My hope was that the SILP would help me maintain permanent housing all throughout college.”
Unfortunately, the reality of this new placement, called a Supervised Independent Living Placement (SILP), didn’t live up to its promise.
It allowed her to select where she wanted to live and paid her the foster care rate directly. Unfortunately, it was the same flat rate across the state. For a high cost area like Sacramento where Aja lives, the payment didn’t come close to covering her living expenses.
“As I started college, I needed housing fast. I looked for transitional housing, but the provider had no placements open, so I had to wait. For two months, I was homeless. Even with the SILP, it was hard to find any apartments that I could afford.”
In 2023, John Burton Advocates for Youth (JBAY) will work to change this. JBAY has developed a proposal to increase the foster care rate paid for the SILP based on the local cost of housing. To Housing and Health Director Simone Tureck Lee, this reform is just common sense. “We all know that the cost of housing isn’t the same in Stockton as it is in San Francisco and the foster care rate shouldn’t be either. Our goal is to give young people the resources to secure and sustain housing wherever they live in California.”
The approach proposed by JBAY will provide a supplementary payment to foster youth based on the Fair Market Rent (FMR) in the county in which the youth lives. FMR is calculated annually by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Aja’s struggle to make ends meet in a SILP is not unique. A full 40% of youth residing in SILPs reported their monthly budget was insufficient to cover rent and expenses such as utilities, phone, transportation, and food. When foster youth don’t have enough money, they often drop out of school to increase their work hours, a choice that makes sense in the short term, but leaves them in poverty in the long term.
Fortunately, in her first semester at college, Aja was eventually able to move into transitional housing, where she has thrived. In May, she will graduate from Sacramento State with a bachelor’s degree, majoring in criminal justice.
Moving into transitional housing is not an option for everyone. Over 3,300 foster youth are placed in a SILP and California does not have enough transitional housing for all of them. Additionally, many foster youth prefer the independence offered by the SILP and the direct payment. They just want the payment to be adequate.
JBAY Executive Director Amy Lemley thinks that is a reasonable expectation. “Housing costs have skyrocketed since the SILP was created and the payment has not kept pace,” said Lemley. “We have to do what any responsible parent would do and provide the necessary resources to make sure every foster youth in a SILP is safe and stable.”