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Former Foster Kids Struggle With Homelessness

answers_7After a decade spent in foster care enduring moves between homes and institutions, separation from his siblings, and cocktails of meds that fogged his mind, Tevin turned 18. Just like that, he was on his own.

“My caseworker picked me up, gave me my clothes and my CPS file, and dropped me off at a shelter downtown. She just left me there,” he told Children’s Rights.

Tevin said the area around the shelter was frequented by drug users and prostitutes. He was scared, and decided to sleep on the streets instead. Foster care left him with no life skills. No job. No high school diploma. No family connections. “One day I was a kid, and the next day I was a grownup,” he said. “I didn’t know what to do in the real world on my own.”

Throughout the country, thousands of young people like Tevin struggle with homelessness after they age out of foster care. The scope of the problem is huge. Roughly 26,000 young people age out of U.S. foster care each year. And as many as 31 percent of former foster youth spend time homeless or couch surfing, according to a 2011 study conducted by Chapin Hall Center for Children at the University of Chicago.

In Oklahoma, Timothy became homeless instantly at 18. “I wasn’t thinking about aging out until the night before when they said ‘What are you going to do tomorrow?’ I said, ‘I don’t know,” he told KJRH-TV.

In Washington, Sharayah told the local news site Crosscut that she was “keeping my stuff in my backpack and staying wherever I could,” when she aged out of care.

In California, Kevin was approaching homelessness, when his friend’s parents took him in. “We weren’t going to be the ones to throw him onto the street,” Linda Campbell told LA Weekly.

Children’s Rights believes states must do more to ensure all young people who’ve spent time in foster care have support and a safe place to call home.

Our legal advocacy has secured reforms in places like New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut, where kids can now stay in state care and receive services past their eighteenth birthdays. Studies show that when youth remain in care until they are 21, it cuts their risk of homelessness and leads to more education and higher lifetime earnings. It also gives child welfare workers more time to help young people plan for their futures

“If states fail to reunify children with their families or place them in adoptive homes, the least they can do is teach kids skills to be successful adults and help them form life-long connections like mentors to rely on as they mature,” said Sandy Santana, chief operating officer of Children’s Rights.

After sleeping “behind buildings,” Tevin said he has finally found the support he needs. But it wasn’t easy. On the streets, he stopped taking his medication, and “couldn’t function.” He was eventually admitted to a hospital, then a rehab facility. That’s where he learned about Angel Reach, an organization that has since become his lifeline.

Tevin now has a roof over his head and a support system to lean on. He is back in school, and has access to classes for life skills he never learned in foster care, like cooking and money management.

Children’s Rights is thankful Tevin found stability, but his journey — and the journeys of thousands of other young people — shouldn’t have to be so rough. Children’s Rights will continue to push foster care systems to give kids vital support and services, so they aren’t forced from foster care to the streets. Join our efforts by contributing online, liking Children’s Rights on Facebook, or following us on Twitter @ChildrensRights.