Strike A Chord: Foster Kids Struggle To Find Homes
Christopher Redden has been living on his own for four years. After aging out of foster care, he lived in a group home for a while. Then, he couch surfed for a bit, but now he lives in a spacious one-bedroom apartment in Harlem. He described the first time he saw it,
"Wow!" Redden said. "It looked like mine. It looked like it belonged to me, you know. I was on top of it. I didn't waste no time with documents that they needed."
Redden lives in a type of transitional housing. Some non-profits offer units like this to foster kids to help them with the transition between foster care and living on their own. Redden only pays around $450 a month in rent. He said because the price is so low, he feels an extra sense of responsibility to keep the apartment in a good state.
"I do feel like it’s a great experience because it puts you in the position where you have to live up to it. Even though you have an apartment like this you have to keep it clean."
However, not everyone is as fortunate as Redden. In New York City, it’s estimated that there are around 20,000 former foster kids who are unable to find a permanent living situation after aging out of the system. Many former foster kids will have to turn to homeless shelters or friends’ couches in hopes of having a roof over their heads.
Transitional housing ends when you turn 25. Redden is now 22, so he'll be forced to move out in three years, but he said he's not worried. He's making a future as a real estate agent helping other people find homes.
"These are something that were all going to need. We all need homes. They're going to need real estate agents. Great real estate agents."
Dr. Jeremy Kohamban is the President and CEO of the Children's Village. The Children's Village is a non-profit organization that tries to help foster kids in all types of ways like providing an adult mentor, finding jobs and offering transitional housing.
Kohamban said it's important to provide some type of housing to foster kids aging out of the system especially because some of them may be putting their safety at risk for a roof over their heads.
"Kids who age out and end up in homeless situations or end up couch surfing often end up trading safety and personal space for room and board," Kohamban said.
He said that while some good people do open their homes, it's not the norm.
"In our experience when kids start to couch surf they're at risk," Kohamban said. "They're at tremendous risk because there is always a price that they have to pay. You know and sex is a big part of that price for many of our kids. Sometimes that price includes drugs."
Kohamban said that by offering transitional housing Children's Village is helping to abate these concerns; however, he said it's up to everyone in the lives of these kids to help them find a permanent living situation. From friends to mentors.
Stephen Mccail gets it. He's been a foster parent for over 20 years, and said that his foster kids know that they're always welcome in his home no matter how old they are.
"They'll age out of the foster care system, but they don't age out of the family," Mccail said. "They still contact me. They still come by during the week or on weekends."
Mccail takes in teenagers who're out of residential treatment centers and psychiatric homes. He said sometimes connecting with them is really hard as many of them have experienced trauma, but he said the best path forward is paved with patience.
"You have to be that person willing to heal that broken heart. So how do you do that? It comes with time. It comes with time and unconditional love, which is basically when you love someone in spite of and just unconditional commitment. That's what's hanging on when everybody else let go," Mccail said.
Mccail said he keeps in touch with most of his teens on a daily basis regardless of whether they're still living with him or not. He's also helped many of them find permanent housing. Mccail said that as long as people know they have a support system in place, it can change everything.