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Thursday, September 15, 2016

Michael Outrich's Letter of Support for the Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act

Michael Outrich, facilitating the SE Ohio Reaching for Success
conference for foster care youth at Ohio University. 
Dear Representative Mike Turner,

My name is Michael Outrich and I am a foster care alumnus who emancipated from Cuyahoga County Ohio. I currently attend graduate school at The Ohio State University majoring in City and Regional Planning.

I represent Alumni of Care Together Improving Outcomes Now (ACTION Ohio), a statewide organization that is dedicated to improving outcomes for former foster care youth. ACTION Ohio brings together the voices of youth in care, alumni of care, and allies to create lasting change and to empower and generate hope for current and former foster youth, based on access to resources, ally support and, alumni expertise.

I am writing to express my strong support for the Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act. As a former foster youth myself, it matters to me that one in five young people who “age out” of foster care experience homelessness not only because of this dismal statistic but because I was homeless. This program offers a creative solution to help, with no additional spending required.

While I was pursuing my bachelors at Ohio University, I became homeless during breaks, because I had no family to support me. I didn't know what to do or where to go for help. I spent time couch-hopping on friend's sofas, and in shelters.

When I became eligible to move off campus after my sophomore year, I was really excited to get my own place. However, I was required to have a cosigner to my lease due to my age and lack of credit history. Being an emancipated foster youth with no family support, I had no cosigner. My options were: (a.) to pay the entire lease’s rent in full, (b.) to take out more student loans, (c.) to stay in campus housing, which would require me to take out more loans, or (d.) to apply for Section 8. 

I decided to try to look into Section 8, because my income was low enough to qualify. I submitted an application and found out it would be four years before I would likely find a place. Athens County is a very poor county and many need subsidized housing. So I ended up needing to take out more student loans to pay the cost up-front. I still do this today living in Columbus while attending The Ohio State University for Grad School.

If the Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act were in place, many of the struggles I experienced and continue to experience, would be mitigated or avoided altogether. I still have to pay my lease in full up-front at the start of every term, and am fortunate enough to have landed a Graduate Research Position which pays well, but many of my peers are not so fortunate. The passage of this Act would allow them the stability and access to improve their outcomes as they further their education, employment, and achieve their goals, dreams, and aspirations all the while becoming more productive members of society.

Sincerely,

Michael Outrich
ACTION Ohio
Alumni of Care Together Improving Outcomes Now
www.fosteractionohio.org

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Lisa Dickson's Letter of Support for the Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act

Lisa, facilitating a College for the Day
event for foster youth at OSU
Good morning,

My name is Lisa Dickson and I am a former foster youth who resides in Delaware County Ohio.

I represent Alumni of Care Together Improving Outcomes Now (ACTION Ohio), a statewide organization that is dedicated to improving outcomes for current and former foster care youth. ACTION Ohio brings together the voices of youth, alumni and allies to create lasting change and to generate hope for current and former foster youth, based on access to resources, ally support and alumni expertise.

I am writing to express my utmost support for the Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act.

I "aged out" of foster care in 1989, and was accepted into college at 16 years old. College and graduate school became my pathway to my future. However, I still experienced several months of homelessness within the first year of my "emancipation," due to lack of preparation and having no family support. It saddens me that so many years have passed, with still so little progress in this area.

It's difficult to explain what's like to be homeless to a person who has not experienced it. During the months that I was homeless, I continued going to college, because I knew that was my lifeline to the future. I attended classes during the day, and worked at various part-time jobs on campus - but as night drew nearer, there was always a question running through my mind: "Where will I sleep?"

That question is a survival need. It feels like a pit in your stomach. It can make it difficult to concentrate on anything else. At the time, I found creative solutions. I put my head down on a pile of books in the study carrels of various college libraries. I cat-napped while sitting in the back of the bus that circled around campus. I couch-surfed; spending a night or two on the floors of various acquaintances. Never too many nights in a row, in case that person might begin to have motives that might make me feel unsafe or uncomfortable.

But that was the late 80's,  and I don't live there anymore. At age 17, I moved into a Methodist dorm on campus, and was connected with a caring community that supported my personal growth and educational success. Today, I have a Master's degree, a house, a husband, and a full-time job where I've been working for 17 years. In addition to my paid work, I volunteer 20-30 extra hours per week to strive to improve outcomes for my brothers and sisters in and from foster care.

So, why are so many of today's foster care youth still "aging out" into homelessness?

The Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act is not only brilliant, it is long overdue. The time is now to make this Act a reality. It offers a creative solution to help, with no additional spending required, by (a.) allowing foster care youth who are at risk of "aging out" of foster care to apply for housing assistance when they reach 16 years old, and (b.) allowing them to jump to the front of the waitlist when they are about to "age out" of foster care.

Our young people don't want a handout; they want a hand up
, so that they can work to build a successful future. Foster care alumni will be required to demonstrate that they are actively working, pursuing higher education, or engaged in workforce development or vocational training. Participants will thereby build skills, self-sufficiency and economic and personal stability.

This Act has my full support. I believe that it will improve outcomes for foster youth, and provide them with the opportunity to become productive citizens.


Lisa Dickson
Communications Chair
ACTION Ohio
Alumni of Care Together Improving Outcomes Now
www.fosteractionohio.org

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Jamole Callahan's Letter of Support for the Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act

Jamole, facilitating a COTA Bus Scavenger Hunt
for foster care teens, to help prepare them for young adulthood.

Good morning,

My name is Jamole Callahan and I am a former foster youth from Franklin County Ohio.

I represent Alumni of Care Together Improving Outcomes Now (ACTION Ohio), a statewide organization that is dedicated to improving outcomes for current and former foster care youth. ACTION Ohio brings together the voices of youth, alumni and allies to create lasting change and to generate hope for current and former foster youth, based on access to resources, ally support and alumni expertise.

I am writing to strongly support the Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act. As a former foster youth myself, it matters to me that one in five young people who “age out” of foster care experience homelessness. This program offers a creative solution to help, with no additional spending required.

During my college years, there were times when I had no housing options. I didn't have family to turn to when it was time for the dorms to close for vacations and holidays. As a male, there wasn't a rush to assist me with housing. Many times sleeping on couches and completing applications for housing I knew I could not afford as a college student surviving on work study.

Now as a volunteer, I advocate for better outcomes for current and former foster youth. I see the how difficult it is for foster care alumni to get housing after they leave care. We don't have the best jobs. We don't have the rental history most places are looking for. Because we don't have these experiences, landlords are often unwilling to rent to us.

The Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act has my full support. I believe that it will improve outcomes for foster youth, and provide them with the opportunity to become productive citizens.

Jamole Callahan
Training and Development
ACTION Ohio
Alumni of Care Together Improving Outcomes Now

Ruth-Ann Thompson's Letter of Support for the Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act

Ruth-Ann serving early Thanksgiving dinner
to foster care teens and young adults
Good afternoon;

My name is Ruth-Ann Thompson and I am a former foster youth from Washtenaw County, Michigan; however I currently reside in Franklin County, Ohio.

I represent Alumni of Care Together Improving Outcomes Now (ACTION Ohio), a statewide organization that is dedicated to improving outcomes for current and former foster care youth. ACTION Ohio brings together the voices of youth, alumni and allies to create lasting change and to generate hope for current and former foster youth, based on access to resources, ally support and alumni expertise.

I am writing to strongly support the Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act. As a former foster youth myself, it matters to me that one in five young people who “age out” of foster care experience homelessness. This program offers a creative solution to help, with no additional spending required. I spent four years in “the system” unsure that I would ever find permanent placement.

Stability is what made the difference in my life as I entered adulthood; in fact, I believe I needed more structure and guidance in my late teens/early twenties than I did when I was younger. Life choices that have affected my life even now were made during those crucial and critical years of my life. As an adult, once I married and had my own children, our family was involved in a serious car accident that left my husband dead, my children and I critically injured, and required me to fend for myself once again.

It was that stability, created in my late teens, that helped me navigate those uncertain waters at that time, and gave me the opportunity to keep my family together, thus preventing another generation from being returned to “the system.”

It is with deep joy and personal pride that I say I am a former foster youth who now works hard, pays taxes, has stable housing for me and my children and I currently volunteer my time in various ways to give back to society. The Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act has my full support. I believe that it will improve outcomes for foster youth, and provide them with the opportunity to become productive citizens.

Ruth-Ann J. Thompson
ACTION Ohio
Alumni of Care Together Improving Outcomes Now
www.fosteractionohio.org 

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Writing Letters of Support

Representative Michael Turner created the “Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act” as a direct result of meeting with Ohio foster care youth during our annual Three Days on the Hill trips to DC.

The Subcommittee on Housing and Insurance (Committee on Financial Services) is willing to include the bill within a hearing on Section 8 Vouchers. This hearing is tentatively scheduled for September 22, which is quickly approaching.

This is our opportunity -- as foster care youth, alumni and ally advocates -- to submit letters of support to Dan Hare, dan.hare@mail.house.gov  


The Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act Proposed Legislation – Rep. Michael R. Turner (OH-10)

The Problem:
High rates of homelessness among foster care alumni leading to negative outcomes In FY2014, the Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families estimated that around 22,000 youth across the country emancipated from foster care.

Because the government takes on the role of parent for these youth, and also determines when they age out of foster care, it is equally responsible for supplying adequate support as they make the overnight transition into adulthood so as to prevent government-triggered homelessness.
Homeless individuals face extraordinary difficulties across a broad range of life activities, and being homeless is associated with a host of negative outcomes, often straining America’s social safety net and financial resources.

Unfortunately, foster care alumni are one of the most vulnerable, high-risk groups when it comes to homelessness. Studies show that the sudden and permanent transition from foster care to adulthood is a key driver behind homelessness. Nearly one in five youth who were in foster care at age 17 reported that by age 19, they had experienced homelessness at some point during the previous two years.

A May 2014 Department of Housing and Urban Development analysis concluded that, “[c]urrent research on the outcomes of youth aging out of foster care points to a real need for policy and programs to assist them in maintaining housing. . . .” After all, aging out of foster care should not mean aging into homelessness.

The Solution: The Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act
The Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act presents a straightforward approach that will help break this cycle of homelessness and negative outcomes for foster care alumni, offering them enhanced opportunities to become successful, productive members of society. Essentially, the bill prioritizes minors who are aging out of foster care, and at risk of homelessness, when furnishing housing assistance.

This legislation uses a two-pronged approach that requires no new spending:

1. Early application: Minors will be able to apply for housing assistance upon reaching 16 years of age, prior to aging out of foster care.

2. Priority Preference: When a minor reaches the point 6 months prior to aging out of foster care, he/she will automatically receive a priority preference over other applicants for housing assistance, allowing the minor aging out of foster care to jump to the front of the waitlist.

The Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act requires that those receiving assistance hold up their end of this bargain by working to build their future. Participating foster alumni must demonstrate that they are actively working, pursuing further education, or engaged in workforce development or vocational training. To encourage attainment of self-sufficiency within a reasonable time period and to free up housing assistance for the new group of foster youth that ages out each year, housing assistance under this Act phases out upon reaching age 25.

Bottom Line: Given the parental role the government plays in foster youths’ lives, it has an obligation to prevent government-triggered homelessness within this vulnerable population. Foster care alumni with stable housing and a legitimate chance to establish themselves as they transition into adulthood are more likely to become successful, independent citizens.

Please send letters of support for Rep. Turner’s bill to Dan Hare, on Rep. Turner’s staff, via e-mail at dan.hare@mail.house.gov

Saturday, September 10, 2016

The best "no" that Ohio has ever received



We as foster care youth and alumni were successful in advocating against the barriers posed by the Healthy Ohio waiver that threatened to undermine Medicaid access for foster care youth and alumni ages 18-26. And that's a victory for us, and for our state:

http://medicaid.ohio.gov/Portals/0/Resources/PublicNotices/HealthyOhio-decision09092016.pdf