Saturday, August 2, 2008

Young and Homeless

Kids age out of foster care to the streets: Life |
Nearly 38 percent of foster care alumni in Alaska said they were homeless at some point after leaving their foster homes, according to a 2005 study from the UAA School of Social Work -- much higher than the 12 to 25 percent for foster care alumni in other states.
Leaving foster care is an uncertain time for youth who are struggling through their coming-of-age years without a stable family. Add the pressure of graduating from high school and the need for employment... this can be the perfect storm.

Moving is an acute life stress for even the best-prepared and well-adjusted teens. (For the record, I was well-prepared by a loving family. No foster care.)

I left home at age 18, lived in at least 4 different apartments by age 20, moved back in with mom for a few months, and shared a house with friends for about a year. All the while, I worked full-time and paid my own college tuition.

With a B.S. and $7,000 saved up, I drove to Alaska. Enrolling in grad school cost $5K but I could get a job, right?

Wrong! Unable to find work in Fairbanks, I slept in a tent (or the UAF library) from June until late October. Yeah, the ground froze, snow fell, and I got rousted by police more than once for sleeping in my '69 Beetle. You gotta wear every stitch of clothing and slide into a sleeping bag to make it through an October night in Fairbanks.

This is the part in the story where I say thanks Paul. That little house out on mile 14 Chena Hot Springs Road saved me from a frozen a**. I lost touch after Teller but if you read this, please email. Cold fizzy drinks are on me.

Well, I lost 15 pounds in a couple months but was able to make it. January rolled around and I was still out of a job. Eating was a luxury that dwindled my bank account to just a few hundred bucks.

Fortunately my student teaching assignment came with free housing and the lunch ladies were very nice to me. What luck.

I skipped over most of the really good parts of this story but you get the idea. Bouncing around for the better part of 6 years and sometimes homeless.

But never desperate. Never hopeless. I always had the goal of a college degree and the confidence that I would survive and prosper.

The college goal, the self-confidence, the ability to learn, and the adaptability came from a loving family. If foster care kids get that much, then they will be okay.

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