LANSING, Mich. — When college students were forced out of dorms, some didn't have anywhere to go no family, no permanent home.young people who've who are too old for the foster care system have been some of the hardest hit by COVID-19. But as Amanda Brandeis explains, efforts are underway to keep them from falling through the cracks.
“I entered foster care when i was 5-years-old.” Removed from her home and family, Jackie Robles experienced a sudden loss she didn’t understand.
“My dad is serving a life sentence in prison and my mom dealt with a lot of severe mental illness issues and was also addicted to methamphetamine.
”One year later Robles moved in with her grandmother – but re-entered the foster care system at 16, sent to live in a group home.“ Some people that lived there were in sex trafficking, some of them had dropped out of high school. some were high school aged but still in middle school.”
These harsh realities motivated Robles to focus on her education and graduate - but she worries about others trying to do that now.only 50% of foster youth graduate high school and just 3% graduate college.
“There’s a huge disparity.” Gianna Mulkay, Executive Director at Together We Rise is with together we rise, a nonprofit dedicated to helping foster children.during the pandemic, former foster youth in college were once again on their own.
“There was a lot of confusion with dorms shutting down, sororities and fraternities pretty much dismantled and then also on-campus jobs and part-time jobs, those were all being laid off or non-existent.”
“I know a lot of those youth had to sleep in their car or sleep with friends or couch surf.” Robles was transitioning into grad school. “Once I turned 21, because I emancipated from foster care, there weren’t any housing resources for me.”
Together we rise called on volunteers to open their homes when COVID hit, worked with hotels to secure rooms, and even purchased RV’s for students.
“Before we knew it serving 1,200 students, with not just longer-term housing, but making sure they had meal assistance, making sure they stayed enrolled.”
Through the rapid response effort, Robles received money for food and rent before landing in a housing program for the homeless. “We’re very nervous about the continued close downs and what that means for housing for foster youth.”
It’s a system that was already in crisis. Mulkay says 80% of the prison population has experienced the foster care system and 70% of foster youth go homeless within 18 months of aging out. For young women, she says 70% will become pregnant by age 21.
“Foster community is hit, and it’s hit hard. We don’t think it will ever be the same again.” But the rapid response effort is showing results – 100% of students who received help re-enrolled for college this fall.the nonprofit now has funding to serve these 14 states – with the hope to reach many more.
“This is definitely way more direct, way more in the trenches of discovering the real issues.”
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