I have been homeless. I resided at the Union Rescue Mission in Skid Row for two years with my father and younger sister, just over a decade ago. My father was, and still is, a very capable parent – a fact conceded by the Los Angeles Superior Court system when he was ordered full custody during a hearing between my parents. Instead of ensuring housing could be provided for us as a family unit, he was tasked with providing a roof over our head, and a social worker recommended Union Rescue Mission. In 2008, that is where we went – assigned a room just large enough for two bunk beds and a mini-fridge, with a court order that included mandated therapy, case worker visits, parenting classes for my father, and supervised visits anytime we wanted to see my youngest brother who was still in the system.
I am sure much thought went into the decision to release my sister and I to my father. The case went on for years and the court order provided the stability I had long yearned for, even if it resulted in me living in a small room, in one of the longest running homeless shelters in Skid Row. The court order was not well-rounded though. Most importantly, it was missing housing assistance – I was ordered to live on Skid Row by the Los Angeles County child welfare system (please let that sink in), and it wasn’t temporary, nor was it transitional. It was missing clothing assistance – my sister and I relied on the Union Rescue Mission’s “closet” to replace what we lost moving from placement to placement while we were in care. It was missing flexibility – my father was forced to miss work and needed income to fulfill his parenting class mandates, and to maintain his custody of his children. It was missing care – with my little brother’s placement forcing my sister and I on the bus to go see him, it meant we didn’t see him as often as we’d hoped; It was a 3 hour bus ride for us, but a 45 minute drive for my little brother’s case worker. It was missing love – a reminder that there was no impactful follow-up nor beneficial regard for what our lives would look like years after we were ordered out of the child welfare system.
I lost my sister to the streets when she was 24, a transition aged youth, on September 13, 2017. She was homeless, and the Los Angeles County child welfare system failed her. I miss her everyday, and everyday of my life I work to lift the voices of the transition aged youth who are still here. I have helped Fortune 500 companies at a PR Firm, and I have written legislation for one of the largest cities in the country: Los Angeles. But I have loved no work more than the work at The National Foster Youth Institute, and alongside the End Child Poverty California campaign, which allows me to hear the stories of young people who remind me of my younger sister.
While the child welfare system is menacing and traumatizing, young people who have emancipated from the system have more than just strength and tenacity – they have found in themselves a reason to live and to continue pushing forward. Despite a system that seems to be designed to keep them at their lowest, I have met young poets and creative artists whose empowering work gives me goosebumps. Despite a system that habitually seeks to destroy the will of our youth, I have met some of the most unbreakable spirits who, despite being unable to access love in the child welfare system, continue to love with abundance, even for those who loved them too little. Despite a system designed to control youth in it’s care, I have met young people whose optimism for their future demonstrates they are in full command of their own destinies and their freedom.
The trials young adults must overcome as a result of the child welfare system create significant barriers to growth, but despite it all, tens of thousands of transition-aged youth continue to push forward. We are all worthy of love. And when my sister was experiencing her darkest moments, a system designed to protect her should have been there to catch her when she fell off her feet – to show her she was worthy of love. It wasn’t there for my sister, but as we navigate a most uncertain future, it must be there for those young adults who are still here.
For those aspiring artists and freedom fighters, for those parents seeking to provide the best for their kids, for young survivors of the system like myself who have had to question their success every step of the way, we must end child poverty NOW, and break a system that has resulted in the loss of life of too many of our young brothers and sisters.
We must bring about an end to a vicious cycle that oppresses liveliness, and conditions our youth to cope with a broken system we know needs beneficial transformation. It will take a village, but we must demonstrate respect for our youth and provide them with the love they are worthy of receiving.
Kenneth Chancey, Policy and Organizing Manager, National Foster Youth Institute
The National Foster Youth Institute is a partner of the End Child Poverty California movement. We are incredibly proud to have the support of Kenneth and The National Foster Youth Institute as part of our movement. To read more stories of how Californian’s are being impacted, especially during the COVID-19 crisis, head over to our California Stories page.