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California's Proposed Foster Care Cuts Could Increase Homelessness, Advocates Say

Traneisia Jones is a Sacramento State student and a former foster youth. She is pictured here at the university’s arboretum.
(Photo by Janine Mapurunga)

Advocates for California’s foster youth are criticizing Governor Gavin Newsom’s plan to cut several programs they say are critical to keeping foster youth from falling into homelessness


Newsom proposed the cuts in January as part of his plan to close the state’s multi-billion budget deficit.

They would eliminate:


Advocates say the cuts could increase the risk of young adults falling through the cracks and into homelessness as they leave the foster care system. Foster youth are eligible for rental subsidies and other state-funded housing services until they turn 21.

A recent survey found one-quarter of the state’s former foster youth experienced homelessness between the ages of 21 and 23.

Advocates say they were hoping the state’s increased SILP rental subsidy would make it easier for foster youth to afford California’s high cost of housing. Currently, the program provides a $1,129 monthly payment to cover rent and all other living expenses for approximately 3,000 foster youth statewide.

Last year, the Legislature approved a SILP supplement that could raise the monthly payment by as much as $1,300 for foster youth depending on cost-of-living expenses in each county. The increased payment was expected to go into effect next year and cost the state $18.8 million.

“This is something that everyone agreed on. The bill passed. We had it in the budget,” said Wednesday Pope, 23, a former foster youth who lives in Placerville and advocates for foster support programs. “We saw essentially a light at the end of the tunnel for so many of these youth. It at least gave them a little more hope that they would be able to find housing and not have to panic the day they turned 18.”

Pope said she lived out of her car in Sacramento and couch surfed for a year after leaving foster care at 18. She said the rental subsidy she received didn’t cover the region’s high cost of housing.

Meanwhile, those who run California’s foster support programs say Newsom’s cuts are out of step with his focus on helping solve the homeless crisis.

“Older foster youth especially are exceptionally vulnerable to housing insecurity and homelessness,” said Eileen Cubanski, interim executive director at the County Welfare Directors Association of California, or CWDA. “I think the elimination of this [SILP supplement] program is going to compound the difficulty that they have in finding and securing stable housing.”

CWDA is a nonprofit that advocates for the state’s 58 county welfare departments, which administer the rental subsidy and 24/7 hotline programs.

On the streets foster youth ‘have no one else’

Traneisia Jones spent more than a decade in California’s foster care system. She said some of her 50 foster siblings now live on the streets where they’re vulnerable to crime, mental health problems, drug and sex trafficking “because they have no one else.”

The 21-year-old Jones is now a student at Sacramento State where she’s studying criminal justice before she hopes to pursue a career as a social worker. She said cutting the state’s support programs could mean more foster youth end up unhoused.

“I’m afraid that (falling into homelessness) is a very high risk for us just because a lot of us depend on those supports,” she added.

Jones said she saved up enough money to pay for an apartment after her housing subsidies ended this year. She and Pope, who is studying business administration at Folsom Lake College, now advocate for foster youth and have testified on their behalf at the state Capitol.

Along with cutting the increased rental payment and hotline, Newsom has proposed eliminating the state’s $13.7 million Housing Navigation and Maintenance Program. It provides grants to local child welfare agencies to help current and former foster youth secure housing. Counties have also used the money for case management services for foster youth.

Cuts could eliminate 24/7 hotline

The governor’s spending cuts would wipe out more than just housing subsidies. They would also eliminate Cal-FURS, a $30 million statewide program that helps de-escalate problems between foster youth and the families they’re placed with.

David Baker directs the Sacramento Children's Home, which runs the 24/7 hotline and support program. Cal-FURS pays for trained professionals to quickly respond by phone, text and in-person.

“When you’re a foster parent and you’re trying to provide support and take care of kids 24/7, and things come up that can be very challenging, sometimes you just want some help,” Baker explained. “Sometimes that means talking on the phone. Sometimes that means texting somebody just to give you a level of reassurance that ‘Everything is going to be okay. Stick with it. Things are going to work out for the child.’”

“Sometimes the child wants somebody else to talk to,” he added.

Baker said the program helps maintain stable foster homes and is one of the best strategies to prevent homelessness among foster youth.

Newsom’s proposed cuts are in response to a budget shortfall the governor pegs at $38 billion. The independent Legislative Analyst’s Office recently estimated gap is closer to $73 billion.

H.D. Palmer, a spokesperson for Newsom’s finance department, said in a written statement the shortfall “poses a substantial challenge and requires difficult decisions to reduce spending — and these proposals reflect that.”

Newsom and the state Legislature must agree on a plan to cover the budget deficit this spring. The next budget year begins July 1.

Contact CapRadio reporter Chris Nichols at chris.nichols@capradio.org
This story is part of the Solving Sacramento journalism collaborative. Solving Sacramento is supported by funding from the James Irvine Foundation and the James B. McClatchy Foundation. Our partners include California Groundbreakers, Capital Public Radio, Outword, Russian American Media, Sacramento Business Journal, Sacramento News & Review, Sacramento Observer and Univision 19.
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