July 1, 2024

Rose Wilhem’s Voice Prevails: $13.7 Million Victory for Foster Youth

Rose Wilhem’s Voice Prevails: $13.7 Million Victory for Foster Youth

Surreal. That is the description that Rose Wilhem gave when she learned that the $13.7 million Housing Navigation and Maintenance Program was spared in the recently adopted 2024-25 California State Budget. 

Rose is a Youth Advocate at John Burton Advocates for Youth (JBAY) and had been working to preserve the program since January 10th when JBAY learned that the program was slated for elimination due to a record-level budget deficit. Each year, the Housing Navigation and Maintenance Program provides supportive services to over 1,300 former foster youth in California, who without it, would face homelessness. 

According to Rose, “Honestly, when I learned that the program had been saved, I had to re-read it because it felt surreal.  I had tried to stay optimistic, but the budget was so bad and it seemed like it wasn’t going to happen. It felt really nice to know that our voices have an impact. They should have an impact because we are the ones affected.”

Rose understands first-hand the importance of the Housing Navigation and Maintenance Program. She was prenatally exposed to drugs, adopted at a young age, and entered foster care at 17 after enduring years of neglect and physical abuse. Foster care ended at age 21 and Rose quickly realized that it would be challenging to secure housing without adults to help. 

Fortunately, Rose received assistance from a local organization 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.”

Rose shared this experience over six months, in budget committee hearings and over 10 meetings with legislators and their staff. According to Director of Housing and Economic Mobility Simone Tureck Lee, Rose’s participation was critical. “In a budget deficit, there’s a lot of discussion of dollars—how to balance the budget, where to preserve, where to cut. But decision-makers want to hear from the human beings these cuts impact. Rose’s story and her  courage and willingness to tell it inspired lawmakers in committee hearings, helped legislative staff understand why the program is important, and motivated other young adults to get involved in advocating for preserving this investment.”

With her first victory under her belt, Rose is looking forward to continuing to serve as a Youth Advocate at JBAY, “I want to do more. I want to spread my wings and do more advocacy. We are in a hard time right now, with the economy and inflation. It is so hard to get access to food, mental health and transportation. I have ideas and I want to make them happen.”

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