Foster Fridays: Foster Care and Homelessness
I recently did some personal research on homelessness in VA. Since I've interacted with more displaced people since moving here than I had previously, I was curious to see if the number of people experiencing homelessness here is higher than national average. It turns out that this isn't the case, and that the percentage of unhoused persons has dropped significantly since 2010. However, VA has the most children who age out of the foster care system. Twenty percent of kids who age out are instantly homeless , and that percentage just rises as they get older. Often having lost the ability to trust, many kids also run away from foster homes and end up living on the streets.
Recently, I drove past a woman holding a sign saying “Homeless. Please Help.” I try to keep snacks in my car to hand out to people I see in this predicament. (Not because I’m a good person. It’s definitely mostly guilt.) On this particular day I would have had to do a U-turn to go back and stop by this woman. I kept going. All of a sudden I was overcome with conviction, thinking about my son in the back seat. In horror I realized there was a chance that could have been my son’s future. He’s young, but there are countless children his age who aren’t guaranteed a forever family. Kids under five consistently make up between 30 and 40% of children in foster care. What if he’d been removed a few years later and had a harder time being placed with a family who’d want to adopt him? What if he’d never been removed and things got progressively worse?
This week I watched an interview with a young man who was told to leave his foster home the day he turned 18. He said he was never taught life skills in any of his 4 foster homes, that he didn’t know the first thing about finding employment. He also said if he could have one wish granted, it would be that people would be more understanding of the poor.
Those of us who care about children in foster care need to be considerate and compassionate when we meet individuals experiencing homelessness. What are we teaching our kids, especially our “foster” kids, about the value of people in difficult situations if we react with judgement or indifference? We need to recognize how hard the lives of these displaced people have likely been, and think about how we’d want someone to treat our own child if this was their situation.
If you live in our area, there are several local opportunities to help those without homes. Message us if you’d like to learn more.
VA Poverty Law Center
National Foster Youth Initiative
Kids Count Data Center Invisible People