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JBAY Helps Build a Bridge to Stable Housing

“I was starting college at Sacramento State and needed help identifying a safe, reasonable housing placement option that wasn’t going to fall apart. Housing navigation could have helped me with this. While I waited for transitional housing to become available for two months, I was homeless. I failed my summer courses, and my mental health was bad.” 

Ajanique Dunlap was sharing her story of homelessness while in foster care with the Assembly Committee on Housing & Community Development on March 15. A Youth Advocate for John Burton Advocates for Youth (JBAY), Ajanique was speaking in support of Assembly Bill 413: “Addressing Foster Youth Homelessness”. 

AB 413, introduced by Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-District 19), would establish permanent funding for programs helping current and former foster youth to secure stable housing, while also providing training for social workers to help foster youth navigate the housing system. The proposed law would also provide a housing supplement for foster youth in counties with the highest rental costs. AB 413 is sponsored by JBAY and supported by 120 other organizations.

“California has taken great strides to address the alarming rates of homelessness experienced by foster youth,” Simone Tureck Lee, JBAY’s director of housing and health, told the hearing. “However, there is still work to do. Nearly one in five youth experience homelessness while in foster care between ages 19 and 21, and one in four experience homelessness after transitioning out of care between 21 and 23.”

COVID-19 has only worsened the problem for foster youth, highlighting the need for long-term housing solutions. According to a survey last July, 79% of current foster youth age 18-21 who were working at the onset of the COVID-19 crisis either lost their jobs or experienced a reduction in hours. 

Ajanique was fortunate to get into a transitional housing program right when COVID hit. “When I was laid off due to COVID from my campus job, the program was really supportive—they waived my portion of the rent, and they also helped me apply for unemployment insurance.”

As she told the committee, passing AB 413 into law would help provide foster youth with a safe route to a more stable future: “I’m not going to need help forever, but right now the assistance I receive is a very important and critical bridge to me becoming independent.”

The Assembly committee was very receptive to Ajanique’s message. AB413 was passed out of committee unanimously with a bipartisan vote of 8-0. 

For more information on Assembly Bill 413 and how to support it, visit: https://www.jbaforyouth.org/ab413.

ECMC Foundation and JBAY Issue Campus Grants to Reduce Homelessness and Hunger

The housing crisis in California has escalated over the last decade, with homelessness touching groups once considered immune from it.

College students are one of these groups. According to a 2019 study, 1 in 5 community college students in California experience homelessness during the academic year. Hunger is also growing, with 50% of community college students reporting food insecurity within the last 30 days. Many of these vulnerable students are former foster youth.

JBAY is working to address homelessness and hunger on college campuses. With the support of the ECMC Foundation, JBAY issued seven grants in January 2021 to establish or expand “basic needs centers” which are centralized service centers on college campuses that help students meet their basic needs such as food, housing, clothing, and transportation.

The seven grants, ranging from $10,000 to $20,000 will assist approximately 20,000 students facing food and housing insecurity across California, from San Diego City College in Southern California to San Joaquin Delta College in the Central Valley to Lake Tahoe Community College in the Sierras.

JBAY Education Project Manager Melissa Bond is leading the effort and wrote a publication on basic needs released in October 2020, speaking to basic needs leaders across California and identifying best practices.

“The pandemic has made matters even worse,” said Bond. “The seven campuses selected for grants will prevent students from losing their hard-won academic gains.”

In additional to critically needed funding, JBAY will provide hands-on technical assistance to the seven campuses, with a focus on ensuring that students receive and maintain the financial aid they qualify to receive.

JBAY Works to Expand Mental Health Services

“When I aged out of the system, I wasn’t able to access services anymore, so I ended up homeless,” says Cody, a former foster youth. “At that time, I wasn’t getting mental health services and was suicidal. I didn’t have help or assistance.”

Cody is not alone. Nine out of ten children in foster care have experienced a traumatic event, with nearly half reporting exposure to four or more types of traumatic event. Many of these youth are able to receive mental health services at their school but then lose this vital support when they go on to college. 

In response, JBAY is developing a new program to help foster youth receive the mental health services they need in community college. In collaboration with the L.A. County Department of Mental Health (DMH), JBAY is working to expand school-based mental health services, currently available only in K-12 settings, to community college students who have been in the foster care system. 

JBAY will start by establishing at least three Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) between local community colleges and mental health agencies. Through this process, JBAY will collaborate with DMH to help their contracted mental health providers link up with community colleges interested in offering additional campus-based mental health services for foster youth. Then, JBAY will summarize lessons learned and best practices that can be replicated across other community colleges throughout the state. 

“Youth want to go to college, they want to better themselves. It is difficult for us to navigate through trauma and the policymakers are the ones who can give us that extended chance to keep going to college to get the resources that we need to do well,” said Cody,

Cody is now a JBAY Youth Advocate, sharing her experiences of the foster care system with the public, practitioners and policymakers. She is also on the road to becoming a therapist herself.

“I would not be here if it wasn’t for my therapists. Like school, my therapists were the most consistent people I had in my life. I want to be the same for others when they don’t have that consistency,” said Cody. “Even just seeing a therapist once a week, that can be enough consistency. And it makes a difference. I don’t think people realize how much of a difference it really can make. But for me, it is why I’m here.”

Student in library

New Law Extends Aid for Homeless Students

John Burton with foster youthGovernor Gavin Newsom last night signed legislation that will make California a national leader in supporting college students facing homelessness. Assembly Bill (AB) 2416, sponsored by John Burton Advocates for Youth (JBAY), requires colleges to consider homelessness as an extenuating circumstance when evaluating appeals for the loss of financial aid. 

John Burton, former president of the California State Senate and Chair of JBAY, welcomed the passage of AB 2416: “Taking away a person’s financial aid while they are struggling with homelessness is kicking them when they are down. It’s just not right. Thank you to the California State Legislature and Governor Newsom for keeping the door to higher education open for homeless students.”

California has seen a surge in homelessness among college students. A 2019 study found one in five of the state’s 2.1 million community college students experienced an episode of homelessness over the previous 12 months. A similar report on the 480,000 students attending California State University found that their rate of homelessness was one in ten.

Before this new law, students who became homeless often lost access to financial aid because they did not meet Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP). SAP typically requires students to maintain a 2.0 GPA and complete at least two-thirds of attempted courses.

“As a child, my family situation was unstable,” said Tisha Ortiz, speaking on behalf of JBAY to the Assembly Committee on Higher Education. “I entered foster care at four years old, reunited with my family at eight, and then reentered foster care at 12, where I remained until I emancipated at 18 and was on my own.” 

After high school, Ortiz enrolled at Cal State East Bay but became homeless within a year of attending school due to a lack of family support. 

“Although my GPA was 2.7, the fact that I had withdrawn from classes when I became homeless disqualified me from financial aid,” said Ortiz. “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.”

With AB 2416 taking effect on January 1, 2021, California’s homeless students will be able to count on their colleges providing more aid during the crises we face today and in the future.

JBAY Receives ‘One in a Million Award’ for Moving Youth Out of Poverty

Emmerald Evans

John Burton Advocates for Youth (JBAY) has been recognized with a ‘One in A Million Award’ from Multiplying Good. The award was for JBAY’s work helping foster youth maximize their tax refunds this year, which resulted in more than two thousand foster youth receiving a combined four million dollars in refunds.

“Filing for taxes is always a confusing thing for me when the time comes around,” said Emmerald Evans, a foster youth studying at Sacramento State. “It’s important for me to have help filing taxes to make sure I’m receiving the most suitable refund based on my circumstances and to be sure that I am reporting everything that is needed to be reported.”

If it wasn’t for John Burton Advocates for Youth (JBAY), Emmerald and thousands of other foster youth may have missed out on their refund this year. JBAY provided support and materials to help foster youth like Emmerald complete their tax returns and claim the California Earned Income Tax Credit (CalEITC) for the first time.

(CalEITC) is the state’s largest anti-poverty program, directing $1 billion to low-income Californians in 2019. Unfortunately, until now, young adults, aged 18 to 24, weren’t eligible, unless they were custodial parents. This exclusion was particularly hard for foster and homeless youth, who don’t have the financial support provided by most families to their young adult children.

That all changed last year, when Governor Newsom made 18- to 24-year-olds fully eligible for CalEITC for the 2020 tax year.

JBAY responded to this opportunity by launching the Cash Back for Transition-Age Youth Pledge to help foster and homeless youth take full advantage of this new tax credit. The program educates youth about the availability of the CalEITC. It also encourages youth service providers to conduct activities to increase rates of tax filing, including watching a training conducted by JBAY, distributing social media materials developed by JBAY, planning a tax-filing event, and several more.

JBAY worked with 30 organizations, reaching 2,326 homeless and foster youth by the tax deadline of July 15. This will result in an estimated $4 million in the pockets of transition-age youth in California.

“It’s been an extremely challenging year, especially with so many student jobs disappearing,” said Emmerald. “The tax credit couldn’t have come at a better time. I was able to use my refund to pay off some debts, which has been a huge relief for me.”

Aja Dunlap

JBAY Wins Budget Victory to Prevent Homelessness in High Cost Counties

When Ajanique Dunlap turned 18 she was counting on moving into a foster care placement developed specifically for older youth in foster care. Unfortunately, things did not go as planned. Ajanique found that the transitional housing provider had no apartments open.

“I had to leave my current placement, but I had nowhere to go. I started my first semester at Sacramento State while homeless.”

Thanks to the advocacy of John Burton Advocates for Youth, the 2020-21 state budget includes $4 million to ensure young people like Ajanique don’t face homelessness again. Instead, Ajanique will be eligible for a housing supplement to offset the high cost of housing in California.

The policy change will assist over 1,200 youth annually, ensuring access to housing and supportive services such as case management and counseling, crisis intervention, and assistance with education and employment.

Before this historic investment, waiting lists for transitional housing had reached over 330 youth and, 40% of transitional housing providers reported their waiting lists had grown since the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Housing Supplement was championed by Assembly Member Phil Ting. Thank you to Assembly Member Ting, Governor Newsom and a coalition of over 100 organizations for protecting young people like Ajanique, who can now stop worrying about housing stability and turn their attention to college.

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/