Living in foster care can be tough, but barely having any support makes it a lot tougher.
Almost one year ago, I was 21-years-old and on the verge of being discharged out of the foster care system. I wasn’t living in what is known as “stable housing” – meaning my living situation was not permanent.
I was also trying to complete my college degree at Baruch College. I am studying communications and my goal is to work in government or for a non-profit. I’d like to make a difference in people’s life so I’m interested in policy, especially how it affects working class people, and especially affordable housing. My experience showed me how hard it is not to have a place to live and how important it is to have a real home of one’s own.
It wasn’t easy. I was going from foster home to foster home or sleeping on couches. Mainly, I would stay in the library until it closed to be able to focus then went to where ever I was staying. I was determined not to go to a homeless shelter.
My dear friend, who had aged out of foster care, told me about a new organization that had helped her set up her home, City Living NY (CLNY). Knowing this particular individual, l knew that before City Living, she had barely any furniture in her apartment - just a full-size bed for herself, a twin-sized bed for her daughter and a table and chair in her living room. My friend told me CLNY gave her new household goods needed to make a safe and warm home. CLNY had provided bedding for both my friend, and special Frozen bedding for her daughter; dishes, silverware, and many other kitchen items; a full bathroom set, including an over-the-toilet piece of furniture that they built together; and long curtains for all the windows, which CLNY taught her how to hang. In addition to these items, though, CLNY advocated for my friend to receive the furniture stipend she had not been granted. CLNY then took her shopping and helped her select a living room set, so that my friend now has a couch and table for her and her child.
I then met Liz Northcutt, who is the executive director and founder of City Living. She had a welcoming voice and I could already tell that she was very passionate for helping foster youth. I told her about my situation. Liz really listened to me and went to work. She was the support I needed.
I learned City Living does more than help foster youth furnish their home. Liz is a social worker and really worked with me to find stable housing. Since I was already attending college as a full-time student, I wanted to live in the dorm and had already reached out to the college administration.
Liz reached out to the Administration of Children’s Services (ACS), the city agency that oversees foster care in New York City , which agreed to pay for the dorm. She also accompanied me on the tour (while she was a couple of months pregnant), and we both thought the dorms were really nice. I immediately applied to live in the dorm and was accepted.
When I had officially moved into the dorm, Liz traveled from her residence to my dorm to supply me with a pots and pans set, two microwavable plates and bowls, forks, spoons, knives, a soup bowl, and a brush and dustpan. This was very helpful for me because the dorm was located in Manhattan and food was very expensive. I didn’t have a meal plan, so I only had the option to purchase my food at the local super-markets or eat “take-out.”
Since I wouldn’t be able to afford to purchase food on a daily basis, Liz helped me apply to public assistance. She traveled with me to the office to apply, took on the role as my social worker, and assisted me throughout the application and interview process. We waited for about three hours, packed in a small waiting room. After I finished applying, Liz went with me to pick up my food stamps card. She also attended some of my follow-up appointments, so that I could continue to receive my benefits.
I learned about budgeting, scholarships, bonds, and useful tips on better study habits in a City Living financial literacy program taught by West Point cadets for young adults in foster care last spring. I enjoyed this seminar so much and found it so helpful that I told the Administration of Children’s Services Youth Leadership Council about it. I believe many other foster youth would benefit from this seminar as well.
After a few months of living in the Baruch College dorm, I was told by an ACS representative that Queens College had created a program called the “The New York Foundling Dormitory Project.” In this program, foster youth would be supplied with a meal plan, free dorm, free tutoring, financial support and much more. I quickly applied to the program and got accepted. Liz visited this dorm with me as well, and supported me throughout this transition process.
Within a few months of living in the dormitory project, I received a notice that my New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) apartment was available. (NYCHA is public affordable housing.) I decided it made sense to leave the dorm and get my own apartment.
When we both first saw the apartment, a decent sized studio, we recognized it was painted a “dull” color gray. Liz had given me an option to choose any color that I wanted for my apartment. This was important to me, because I wanted the color of the paint to coordinate with my furniture and importantly be stylish. Since I wanted the theme colors for the apartment to be royal blue, gray and white, we both agreed to make the main colors very light. An accent wall in the bedroom/living room as well as the bathroom color was going to be painted an “eggshell baby blue” and the rest of the apartment was painted a bright white. This would give the apartment an illusion of being a bit more roomy and brighter. We scheduled a set day to paint the entire apartment.
It was a very long day; Liz, another CLNY board member and my brother helped paint the house, which definitely made the whole procedure go by a lot quicker. Since we were dedicated to paint the whole apartment that day, we all almost forgot to eat. Liz was so nice to buy pizza and soda for us all.
The next issue was that my apartment was infested with unwanted bugs and pests, such as roaches, mice, spiders and much more. City Living provided the apartment with a much needed full extermination through one of their corporate sponsors.
Knowing that the space in the apartment was limited, Liz and I went to Ikea to buy shelves and other storage items to provide more space in the apartment. Luckily, Ikea was located only a few minutes away. Once the furniture was delivered to the apartment, City Living had provided me with a full-size comforter and mattress, sheets, mattress pad and mattress cover, to make my sleeping arrangement much more comfortable.
Overall, if it wasn’t for Liz and City Living support, my constant transitions from the foster homes and college dorms to independent living would have been so much more challenging. Also, it would have been difficult to maintain my 3.5 G.PA and continue to be a full-time student. However, regardless of the circumstance, I know my current actions relies on my future and because of that I must continue my college education.
Currently, I’m a foster youth advocate, which speak up for youth in foster care that cannot speak for themselves like writing this article and public speaking. I recently was on a panel for a screening of Foster Care Films telling people about what it is like to be in care. I do feel awkward and nervous sometimes. My main message is that I want people to understand that these young people have been through real hardships. If they have a problem communicating and opening up, people need to understand that they have been through a lot and have trouble trusting people. It isn’t just that they have an attitude.
Throughout the several transitions I’ve gone through last year, I realized the importance of living in a comfortable and healthy environment, because it benefits your emotional and physical well-being. As it turned out, I moved to two different dorms and NYCHA in 2016. It wouldn’t have been smooth if it weren’t for City Living’s support. I really do thank Liz for her dedication. Without Liz’s advocacy, it would have been a struggle to get through all of the moving transitions I had to face in 2016.
I would one day hope that City Living NY would be available in many more states, so that many foster youth wouldn’t have to face being on their own and homelessness once they age out of care.
Living on my own is a big change, and I definitely like it. I was in care since I was about thirteen years old, and now I finally have a stable home. As a youth in care, you never get your own space. Now I have my own place.