Aging out of the foster care system can be both a blessing and a challenge. Young people starting out on their own often find it daunting to secure affordable housing, along with paying living expenses, especially in high-priced California.
The state has one of the largest foster care programs in the country, with more than 60,000 children and teens—33,000 in Los Angeles County alone.
“Foster children and former foster youth are in crisis,” said Jackie Broxton, executive director of the Biddy Mason Charitable Foundation, a faith-based California nonprofit that supports youth living in the foster care system. Broxton said approximately 9,000 new cases are evaluated each month.
While some of these teens adjust well to independent life, many more face obstacles such as homelessness, unemployment, unplanned pregnancy, substance abuse, low college attendance, leaving high school and higher incidences of criminal activity, said Nancy Ackerman, an ELCA deacon who serves as president and CEO of California Lutheran Homes (CLH).
CLH is an ELCA ministry based in Glendale, Calif., that helps young people aging out of the foster care system get established on their own. CLH provides renovated apartments to interfaith organizations such as Biddy Mason and OC United. Thanks to its efforts, former foster care teens in Los Angeles and Orange counties have easier access to affordable housing.
“Our partnership with these two organizations furthers CLH’s mission to provide affordable housing to vulnerable populations, as well as to model the benefits of collaborations among faith-based nonprofit organizations and agencies,” Ackerman said.
CLH provides homes at two locations. For Biddy Mason, CLH owns a house in the historic West Adams Terrace area of Los Angeles, which it rents to the organization for $10 a month, Ackerman said. Biddy Mason uses the house as office and program space for former foster youth and has an apartment that houses four young women.
“We realized that beyond investing cash in affordable housing, we could invest in properties and partner with others who provide the programming,” Ackerman added.
In addition to housing, OC United and Biddy Mason provide programs that facilitate self-sufficiency by teaching life, financial, literacy and employment skills through services, mentoring and community relationships.
For OC United, CLH purchased an apartment building five years ago and renovated the space into four apartments for the organization’s transitional housing program. CLH purchased the building with a donation from St. Paul Lutheran Church in Monrovia, Calif., when it closed. The congregation sold its church building and gave the proceeds to CLH, with the agreement that the funds would support low-income housing in the area, Ackerman said.
“Our collaboration is a very nice fit,” she added, “and a great way for St. Paul’s to live out its legacy.”
Amy Gaw, director of operations and foster care initiative for OC United, said the “building was life-changing” for the organization.
Gaw estimates that several dozen young people, ages 18 to 26, who formerly lived in foster care have called the two- and three-bedroom apartments home, some with their children. She keeps in touch with many of the women after they complete the transitional housing program and reports that most are doing well and getting on with their lives and careers.
CLH rents the fourplex for $10/month to OC United. CLH also funded renovation of the badly neglected building when it was purchased through its partnership with HomeAid. The organization also helped renovate the house CLH rents to Biddy Mason.
“The needs of foster youth in our communities are so great,” Ackerman said, “and we’re happy to be a partner in giving young men and women a place to call home as they begin their adult lives and careers.”
“The longer I do this work,” Gaw said, “the more I realize that partnership is exactly what it takes to help these young people. It takes all of us coming together with our strengths to meet a need. Having a partner like CLH makes collaboration more meaningful.”
Broxton agreed: “We don’t think of CLH as our landlord. They’re our collaborative partner.
“Having a permanent home changed our whole trajectory. CLH has a commitment to ending homelessness, and their purchase of this property gave us a beautiful place to do our work, host foster youth for events or just let them hang out.”
CLH also provides affordable housing to seniors, veterans and people with special needs, along with pre-development loans to affordable housing communities. It also partners with ELCA congregations on vitality and legacy collaboratives, including Living the Resurrection.