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Housing and Homelessness

There’s A New Supportive Division In The City To Help Unhoused Young Adults

Three blue tents used by people experiencing homelessness are lined up on along a sidewalk. Behind them is a hotel.
A DCFS spokesperson says there aren't enough beds to meet the demand for housing, and its current program has a 95% occupancy rate that keeps the vacancy rate low.
(Ethan Ward
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In an effort to address the needs of youth who are at risk of aging out of foster care and probation before they can find housing, the Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) formed a new Supportive Housing Division.

The overall goal of the new division is to streamline the housing services process for people ages 18 to 24.

Amara Suárez, a DCFS public affairs spokesperson, said there wasn’t enough housing inventory to meet the demands of the eligible transition-aged youth.

“Currently, there are approximately 162 beds for all eligible former foster and probation young adults,” said Suarez, referring to the Transitional Housing Program - Plus which averages a 95% occupancy rate. “As a result, the THP-Plus participants are staying in the program longer, which keeps the vacancy rate low.”

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DCFS currently has three countywide transition-aged youth (TAY) housing programs, one for people with open child welfare cases and two for former foster youth that have exited the child welfare system. Suárez said the lack of affordable housing in L.A. continues to be a “pervasive problem” due to the high rents.

According to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority’s 2020 unhoused count, there were 2,585 people ages 18 to 24 who were unsheltered. There are nearly 2,000 youth who are currently in “supportive transition” with DFCS, underscoring the need for resources for young people to access so they don’t end up on the streets in encampments.

Suárez said the agency believes that housing is a human right.

“We are confident that such intentional efforts will decrease the number of TAY and families becoming unhoused and reducing the timeline of family reunification,” said Suárez.

Sarah Fay, a former foster youth, knew the clock was running out on her ability to get help as a transition-aged youth when she applied for housing through Safe Place For Youth in 2018. But by the time she was connected to services, she had aged out. She turned 25 years old.

Fay, now 28 and a campus peer navigator at the nonprofit Safe Place For Youth, said she appreciates that DCFS has expanded its programs, because it’s been extremely difficult to place young people she works with into housing. But she has reservations on whether or not the new streamlined process will help because DCFS doesn’t operate enough of its own housing resources.

I believe what should happen is DCFS should have their own funding, their own programs and their own their own services that they offer rather than just refer youth to the coordinated entry system, which is basically for anybody who becomes houseless.
— Sarah Fay, peer navigator and youth advocate

“Youth are not put into a special or more specific housing service category, they're just thrown in with the other youth that are either probation or DCFS involved, which just kind of makes the whole system more backed up,” Fay said. “They're putting them in the same pool with basically everybody else rather than having their own housing programs and services that are provided just to those youth specifically.”

Fay said many youth still need to go through L.A.’s coordinated entry system, a process that assigns a score to anyone looking for shelter or interim housing. The assessment asks things like a person’s traumatic experiences or substance/mental health issues. Fay said the lower a person’s score, the less likely they will be eligible for services.

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Zack McFarland, an unhoused 24-year-old, previously told LAist that other unhoused people suggested he make his situation appear more desperate by not showering in order to score higher to get a housing placement faster.

“I believe what should happen is DCFS should have their own funding, their own programs and their own their own services that they offer rather than just refer youth to the coordinated entry system, which is basically for anybody who becomes houseless,” Fay said, adding that DCFS should also make sure young people who experience the system should have a seat at their table when figuring out ways to better serve transition-aged youth.

The State of California is currently crafting enhancements to the Transitional Housing Program - Plus, according to DCFS spokesperson Suárez, adding that its new Supportive Housing Division will support any improvements that will benefit prospective participants.