The youth panel discussion was moderated by SHC’s Director of Youth Leadership and Scholarship, Jordyn Roark. U.S. Representatives John Yarmuth (D-KY) and Don Bacon (R-NE), who are co-sponsors of the Emergency Family Stabilization Act, H.R. 7950, joined as special guests. The highlights from the hearing are summarized below.
Han: My name is Han and I am a rising junior at Weber State University studying archeology and environmental studies. Presently, I’m working with the National Network for Youth as a youth advisory member, along with working at a local call center.
Anthony: Hello, my name is Anthony and I’m 19 years old. I’m actually a former foster youth. I currently attend the University of California, Los Angeles, UCLA. I just finished my first year, and I am currently studying sociology. I’m definitely interested in getting into the sports management field once school ends. That’s just a little bit about myself.
Yesenia: Hi, my name is Yesenia. I’m 18 years old, and in the fall, I’m going to attend Heritage University on a full-ride scholarship. I work at Swan Vocational Enterprises. It’s a vocational training program for native youth on the Yakima Reservation.
Christian: Hi, I’m Christian Alexander, and I’m a Sophomore attending Washington University as a Danforth Scholar, specifically majoring in Mechanical Engineering, and minoring in Writing. As of right now, I’m interning in Children’s Television Production through the Television Academy Foundation.
“I think the hard part about constantly moving from place to place is never knowing when the rug is going to be pulled out from beneath you. Maybe that last paycheck isn’t going to be enough, and you’ll find yourself free falling without a safety net, scrambling to be in a good position to stabilize yourself for what comes next.”
Yesenia: I lived with my step dad and my mother for all my life and with my five siblings, I’m like a middle child. One summer, I think it was like my seventh grade, my step-dad said that he didn’t want to work anymore. He just wanted to fish on the river, because that’s what he loved to do. So we just packed up, and we moved. We had two tents. One big one for me and my five siblings, and one for my mom and dad, and we ended up losing our house because of it. So, we ended up just having to live in those two tents down, in this camp area, by the river. We had a communal bathroom and we practically just worked to live. My youngest sibling was 8. And you know, we were just out fishing all day, just trying to have dinner and there was a lot of just like staying with family and just trying to ‘mooch’ off of other people because we couldn’t do it ourselves.
Christian: I was homeless for a good portion of 2017, and this stemmed from years of my great uncle’s mismanagement of the family home, resulting in it being sold without our notification, and the sheriff evicting my grandmother and I. For the next three months, we either stayed in a motel that was paid for by Los Angeles County for some time, or with my uncle in the new home he lived in with other friends of his, often cycling between the two in every few weeks. The home we lived in with his uncle had 4 other people and two dogs living within it, and I often slept on couches or air mattresses, as there often wasn’t enough space in the house. The motel consistently reeked of cigarettes, and at night, it was oftentimes hard to concentrate on a homework assignment given the noises that came from rooms right next door to mine. After that, my grandmother and I moved into a transitional home and lived there with as few as one other family, or as many as three other families, at any given point over the next 5 months, while we stayed there. All of this was during my sophomore and junior years of high school, and I was able to persist during this time by prioritizing academics and my performance in classes so that I could try to guarantee my acceptance into college, which, thankfully, did happen. My high school counselor was incredibly supportive and helpful for me during these trying times, and a lot of my teachers were understanding and supportive whenever I struggled with completing assignments and all.
“When COVID hit, my dorm gave us three days to find housing and not having a secure person I could go to, to find housing, I had to reach out to literally anyone I knew, in order to try and find housing. And thankfully, I was able to find someone, but recently, they just asked me to find somewhere else to say. And so I had to go through that struggle again.The struggle is not actually ever having anywhere you belong. And not having stable housing to go to and literally one person saying ‘you can’t stay with me’ away from being on the streets again.”
Christian: I stayed with other people while my grandmother and I lived at my uncle’s house, and also in the transitional home. This environment wasn’t the most adequate for my grandmother and I, as we were essentially living in a full house that wasn’t entirely clean or adequate. Internet access from my laptop wasn’t always consistent and guaranteed, which meant that I used my uncle’s computer whenever he wasn’t using it. The transitional home wasn’t the most stable or secure living situation for my grandmother and I. On a month-to-month basis, some families cycled in and out of the home, many of which were potentially-unstable single-mother families. A refrigerator, kitchen, and two bathrooms were shared between as few as two and as many as four families. There were also a fairly large number of children in the home at any given date and time as well. Early and late evenings on my end were typically spent studying and completing homework assignments, all while finding the quietest area of the home or, when WiFi was intermittent, working downstairs, where the connection was the strongest. Personal privacy and space was nearly nonexistent, but I was able to focus on my academics to make it through. Given how many people were in the house, there would often be tensions. There was even a moment where a child of one of the family used a racial epithet in the presence of my grandmother. Thankfully, the landlord was able to resolve this concern, but this incident could have potentially grown into something worse if she didn’t address the comment.
“The majority of my support networks work in the high school building, where I went to school…And to be separated from those resources would have been nightmarish to say the least.”
“And even considering how people interacted with me while I was in those spaces, like, I’m a Black woman, and I present as a Black woman, everyone in my family identifies and presents as a Black woman. And so I don’t have enough digits on my hand to count the amount of times people have come up to me, or crossed that boundary, and created a hostile environment.”
“Living in a house where physical abuse was very common, spending many hours in that home, would be even more worrisome to what could possibly occur. So I think just having the education that we needed, obviously to learn, but also as, as our second home in a way, would be taken away from us.”
“To be completely honest, I don’t think I would’ve been able to mentally make it through homelessness if it wasn’t for high school. I devoted almost all of my hope, energy, and effort into school, as it was the one thing I could actually control and guarantee certainty in. Not only that, but a lot of my food came from the free breakfast that my school offered daily.”
“Experiencing housing insecurity with the added stress of there being a global pandemic, and stressing about what it’s going to be like if you have to be on the streets and how you’re going to protect yourself, both physically from other people, but also from the virus. So it has been an absolute downer for my mental health.”
“Attending UCLA for my first year was supposed to be a great experience. Finally getting into my own independence and living on campus in the dorms. Unfortunately, when COVID hit, our housing contract ended. My roommates moved out of the dorm and went back home, so that left me in a situation where I had to kind of figure out where I was gonna go — if I was gonna have the ability to stay on campus or not.”
“My education, as well as my motivation to stick with it, have definitely taken hits since the pandemic, due not only to the drop in quality from in-person to online instruction, but also because of the increased mental and spatial energy needed from me to perform at an academic standard that I’d be at during a normal semester, and how my school’s closure closely resembled my own eviction three years ago.”
“In a way, I don’t think that I would have all this available to me if I wasn’t a foster care youth at some point. And I think that is the matter that definitely needs to be headlined.”
“If you’re living in a motel, or staying with someone, you technically have a roof over your head, but you’re still bouncing around, you’re still vulnerable, and require a lot of support to secure permanent housing. Even while I was sleeping in a storage unit, I didn’t qualify under those standards. So, I think there’s a critical need to increase funding or increased programming for youth who land outside of those definitions.”
Anthony: I can give a little insight on my situation. Mr. Bacon, I applaud you for being a foster parent. It’s truly touching to hear that. I think being in the-, going through the foster care system, I can relate to a lot of things that you were pointing out. In my situation, I didn’t necessarily have a mentor, but I did receive a court appointed special advocate, a CASA, in my case, where he was, kinda like a father figure in a way. Not as much of a mentor, to the effect that he was showing me how to really grow into an adult experiencing, and preparing for things like taxes, healthcare, and things like that, but, in a way, he was sort of a mentor.
Christian: Yes, having a dedicated, consistent mentor continues to be one of the most transformative experiences I’ve ever had. I am fortunate to have had a number of mentors through the college application process, and even now as I adjust into college and begin delving into my prospective careers. Someone who is consistent, energetic, genuinely invested in their student, and unafraid to check in on a student would make an incredible mentor in the middle of an uncertain time. It’s worth noting that few of my mentors have actually been official; a lot of them have been teachers and figures who provided the same support as an actual mentor; at least, that’s how I see them.
Christian: My strength came from desperation. Whether consciously or unconsciously, I knew I was in a bind and had no control over my immediate circumstances. But I knew that school was something I could control, so it gave me a sense of agency and initiative to excel academically, in whatever I commit to. I’d rather not call it strength; I feel as though me saying that about myself would eventually cause it to get to my head.
“I know that a lot of children have slipped through the cracks by now, they’ve just disappeared. So, reach out to them and ask the families and the youth what they need.”
Christian: Having a consistent mentor when things started. If I had that, then there’s a good chance they could’ve referred my grandmother and I to resources that we didn’t even know about, and could’ve also assisted me during most of 2017.
Christine: Specifically, thinking like rural areas, try not to lose contact with your students, because, especially if technology is a barrier, it’s very easy to lose track of who is where. And I know that school was one place where, like, McBeadie or teachers could be like, “Oh, Christine, like, are you OK, OK, like, you’re safe, you’re here.” But with technology, and virtual schooling, that’s not going to happen as much. So, be more intentional about that.
Christian: Listen to the concerns for any and all students who are at-risk, refer them to relevant community programs and resources, and also support them as they apply for opportunities, make use of their resources, and more.