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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
Alumni of Care Together Improving Outcomes Now

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