college graduates throw their hats in the air

JBAY supports new bill to help homeless students stay in college

Nineteen percent of students at California community colleges experience homelessness, as do eleven percent of California State University students. The homeless crisis is even worse for students who are African American, Native American, LGBTQ, or foster youth. Assembly Bill 2416, introduced by Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel, will require colleges to consider homelessness as an extenuating circumstance when evaluating appeals for the loss of financial aid.

On May 13, Tisha Ortiz, a former foster youth speaking on behalf of John Burton Advocates for Youth (JBAY), spoke to the Assembly Committee on Higher Education about her experiences as a student facing homelessness:

Thank you for this opportunity to share my experience with you today. I have direct experience with the toll that being homeless can take on someone’s education. As a child, my family situation was unstable. I entered foster care at 4 years old, reunited with my family at 8 and then reentered foster care at 12, where I remained until I emancipated at 18 and was on my own.

After high school, I enrolled at Cal State East Bay, but without family support I became homeless within a year of attending school. I bounced around to a bunch of different living situations, all the while, attending classes and trying to keep up with schoolwork.

Eventually, I was accepted into a transitional housing program and my grades improved. I transitioned into the dorms and then my own apartment, but my income was not enough to afford the apartment and I again found myself homeless and had to withdraw from classes. I moved around from motel to motel, couch surfed with friends, and even ended up in a shelter for a period of time.

I was eventually able to find stable housing but when I tried to re-enroll at Cal State East Bay, I was told that I couldn’t get financial aid because of satisfactory academic progress requirements. Although my GPA was 2.7, the fact that I had withdrawn from classes when I became homeless disqualified me from financial aid. There is no way that I can afford to attend school without financial aid. The appeals process has been very challenging and so I wasn’t able to enroll for this semester. I hope to return next year as I have just 24 units left to complete my bachelor’s degree.

AB 2416 will make it easier for students like myself who face homelessness to get back on track and remain enrolled and I strongly urge your support.

For more information on AB 2416 and how to support it, visit: https://www.jbaforyouth.org/ab-2416/

JBAY supports bill to help foster youth get student aid

Emmerald Evans

Foster youth struggle in higher education. By age 26, just eight percent of former foster youth earn a bachelor’s degree compared to 46 percent of the same-age population of young adults. One of the main stumbling blocks for foster youth applying to college is failure to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

A new bill in the California Senate aims to tackle this problem. Senate Bill 860, introduced by Senator Jim Beall, would require foster youth to receive assistance completing their FAFSA. 

Emmerald Evans, a Youth Advocate for John Burton Advocates for Youth (JBAY), gave testimony to the Senate Education Committee in support of SB 860, on May 12.

Good afternoon Chairs and members of the committee and thank you for giving me this opportunity to share my experience with you.

My name is Emmerald Evans. I am 21 years old and currently a student at Sacramento State. I was raised in foster care from the age of five until I aged out at age 21. Throughout my foster care experience I attended about a dozen schools, which was challenging for me because my schooling was inconsistent. The content of the curriculum and teaching styles often varied and it was very hard to adjust when forced to move schools in the middle of the term. Moving this much also made it harder for me to develop consistent relationships, both with adult supporters and my peers.

As I concluded my high school years, I was not fully aware of my college opportunities and how to prepare for college, including applying for admission, taking tests like SATs and ACTs and crucially, applying for financial aid. Some barriers that I faced when applying for financial aid included not understanding terminology, not knowing how to access the documents that I needed to apply, and not even understanding the full scope of what financial aid was or its importance.

I was fortunate in that I was extremely self-motivated and was able to research a lot of these questions on my own, but I have seen many of my peers in foster care not have the capacity to pursue getting the necessary information to successfully complete the FAFSA.

This bill is very important because it will allow foster youth to have a reliable support system to help them prepare for college despite the disadvantages that they may face. Having financial aid literacy as well as support to get through all of the necessary steps in the process is vital. As a foster youth, not having the typical family background, I don’t have access to the types of resources that families typically provide like being able to live at home, having access to reliable transportation and of course getting financial support from family for educational costs like books, supplies, a computer and living expenses. This lack becomes even more challenging when a crisis like COVID-19 happens.

By designating the Foster Youth Services Coordinating Programs as the central entity to ensure foster youth have support with this process, this bill will have a significant impact on many foster youth and their ability to be successful in college.

 For more information on SB 860 and how to support it, see https://www.jbaforyouth.org/sb860/

Our advocacy is keeping the Class of 2020 on track to graduate and transition to college

When the pandemic struck, over 4,000 foster care youth who were high school seniors in California suddenly left their high schools and started remote learning. Most didn’t have a laptop or internet connectivity and many were at the crucial tail end of the college application and financial aid process.  

These foster youth were on their own, without parents to help them navigate the uncertainty or logistics of remote learning, college deadlines and more. Without an immediate response, the graduation and college dreams of the Class of 2020 would have remained just that: dreams, and not a reality.

John Burton Advocates for Youth stepped in to ensure that COVID-19 didn’t undo the years of hard work that foster youth who are high school seniors have put into reaching college. 

First, we mobilized a network of county educators, to ensure that students complete the all-important Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). If this form isn’t complete, there is no financial aid and for foster youth, that means no college.  As of May7th, 57% of foster youth have completed the FAFSA, the same rate as the general population of students in California. At the same point in 2019, the completion rate for foster youth was just 45%.

Second, John Burton Advocates for Youth stepped in to advocate to the California Department of Education to make foster youth a priority for the distribution of laptops.  We are making progress, working with the California Office of Surplus to direct thousands of laptop computers to foster youth. 

Youth in foster care are fighters. They have fought hard through abuse, trauma and instability and we’re going to keep fighting alongside them until they reach college and beyond.

JBAY successfully advocates for no aging-out during COVID-19

COVID-19 has challenged us all in many ways. But imagine if you had just turned 21 years old and were told to leave your home and find a new home, all while trying to protect yourself from the virus? Now imagine doing this all without the assistance of a family.  Could you do it safely?

That’s what many foster youth were facing across California when COVID-19 struck. Under existing law, foster youth would be removed from their foster placements to become completely independent as soon as they turn 21.

John Burton Advocates for Youth recognized that it wasn’t right to make young people exit foster care in the midst of the pandemic. That’s why we, together with a coalition of advocates, asked Governor Newsom to allow young people to remain in foster care until June 30th. 

On April 17th Governor Newsom agreed and provided a lifeline to the 1,200 foster youth who would have otherwise “aged out” in April, May and June. Instead of homelessness and instability, these young people are able to remain safely in their homes and on track educationally. 

JBAY will continue to bolster its advocacy efforts to ensure the most vulnerable youth will not fall through the cracks during these uncertain times.