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ILSP-The Transition to Adulthood
There’s Not Enough Housing

July-August 2001

by Richard Bermack

Social Workers Thana Christian and Ian Nicolas with Abbey
Social Workers Thana Christian and Ian Nicolas with Abbey (middle)

Housing is the problem. Social workers have trouble finding proper foster homes for children entering the system and have trouble finding housing for the young adults leaving the system. Many workers feel that by the time foster kids end up in ILSP, the workers have to deal not only with the trauma the kids received before they entered the system, but also with the trauma they experienced in the system. ILSP is the last chance for the system to heal clients before they go out into the adult world, but unfortunately housing in the Bay Area is so problematic that workers have little time to get beyond survival needs and deal with the clients’ deeper psychological issues. ILSP workers Thana Christian and Ian Nicolas talk about the odyssey of Abbey.
Before becoming an ILSP social worker, Thana Christian worked for 12 years as a psychotherapist, but was forced out by managed care. When the Dragon interviewed her, she was trying to get one of her clients, Abbey, out of a placement that went bad. Abbey came into the system a single mother at 15. Finding foster homes for teenagers is difficult, but to find one for a foster teenager with an infant is particularly challenging. And once in the system, Abbey’s problems were far from over. She has been moved four times in three years. Now she is 18 and about to exit the system, and Christian is trying to find her temporary housing until she and her daughter can get Section 8 housing.

“If I was not in ILSP I would be a lot more confused then I am already. It is confusing going through all of it by yourself, not knowing your future, and then being a single parent at 18, getting out of the foster care system without any parents or family. It is really confusing.” Abbey

Abbey didn’t have much of a childhood. When she was 11 she moved in with a friend to get away from her mother, who was involved in drugs. She moved from the mid-west to California with her boyfriend when she was 13. Her boyfriend became abusive and she ended up in a battered women’s shelter with her newborn daughter. “Leaving my boyfriend was a huge crisis. I was able to get out, but my social worker helped me so that I wouldn’t end up going back,” Abbey recalls.
When Abbey entered the system, the only place her social worker could find that would take her and her child was a group home. Children usually end up in group homes because they have behavior problems that got them kicked out of foster homes. The environment was a little rough for Abbey. Her worker eventually found a private foster home for her, out of the area. But for Abbey, the new home wasn’t much better. “The foster lady was crazy. She eavesdropped on my conversations and would accuse me of doing things that I never did. She would lock me out of the house and not let me in after school. I had to wait until the other children came home,” she states.

Christian spoke with Abbey’s foster mother and decided to move Abbey out of the home, but unfortunately her only alternative was to move her back into a group home. At first things worked out, but then one of the social workers discovered financial improprieties with the way the group home was administering some of Abbey’s financial aid. When the administrator was ordered to refund money to Abbey, the administrator turned against her. Abbey says, “I had to deal with a lot of problems, and my daughter had to deal with a lot of problems from the other kids and the group home instructors. The staff would steal and take advantage of people. They would lie on you purposely so you would get in trouble. They would talk with other children and make them miserable. It was a mess.”

“It’s disgusting the way her last landlord used her and used us,” recalls social worker Ian Nicolas. “And we couldn’t do much about it.”
At the time of the interview, Abbey was 18. Christian and Nicolas had moved her into a boarding house. But the story doesn’t end here. The boarding house had a good reputation when Abbey moved in, but a short time later the apartment manager was arrested, and the boarding house rapidly went down hill. “And this was one of our better places. We just don’t have anywhere to place people,” Christian states in desperation.

Ian Nicolas and Abbey carrying folded boxes, walking in the parking lot
Social Worker Ian Nicolas helps Abbey carry boxes to store her belongings until they can find her a better place to stay.

Nicolas used to be an emancipation assistant, but was promoted to a community worker. Part of his job is to find housing for youth about to emancipate. “I’m concerned for where she is, but we have no other options. I wouldn’t want any child in here. It used to be very clean and well kept up, but since the manager went to jail it’s declined. I wanted to put her in a more stable place, but the Bay Area rental prices are impossible. I wouldn’t be able to afford most of the places I find, and I have a good salary,” he says.

Christian spent a large portion of the morning trying to get Abbey a Section 8 housing voucher, only to find that the agency had used up its allotment of vouchers. Christian became so concerned that she began calling her friends and then her church to find out if anyone had any extra housing.

Abbey is in a catch 22. Because she doesn’t have a permanent place to live, it is hard to get her welfare assistance, Temporary Aid to Needy Families, and child care. Without child care, she can’t go to school to get her high school diploma.
“I can’t wait until Selina [Abbey’s daughter] has a bed of her own, and a room of her own, and some little girl sheets, and a little girl comforter, and is in a place where she can have a tricycle, and she can go to bed at night with the doors locked and know her things will still be there when she gets up. Then we can get Selina good child care, and then start on getting Abbey ready for college. We can’t even deal with the underlying psychological issues and the underlying trauma because we can’t get her stable food and housing. We are still working on the basic survival issues,” Christian concludes.

Unfortunately, Abbey’s experience is not uncommon. Christian has another teenage mom who was moved four times in five months. Not having a permanent foster home is one of the main complaints of foster youth, along with the rapid turnover in social workers.