According to San Francisco Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children, there are 65,000 children and youth in foster care in California—by far the highest population of any state. Each year over 4,000 foster youth “age out” of this system. Within the first 2 to 4 years after emancipation, 51% of these young adults are unemployed, 40% are on public assistance, 25% become homeless, and 20% will be incarcerated.
Importantly, attention is being turned to this crisis and individuals and communities are mobilizing. In a recent report on KALW Local Public Radio in San Francisco entitled “A Starting Place for Former Foster Youth,” journalist Rachel Wong highlights individuals in the San Francisco community who are experimenting with new ways to support these young people educationally, professionally, and personally. Wareene Loften, age 73, is featured in the story as a striking example of the power of leverging individual talents to make change in the lives of others.
After one year volunteering as a mentor at Guardian Scholars, a program at the City College of San Francisco that provides support for foster youth, Wareene Loften “recognized pretty quickly how much the students struggled with housing.” As a real estate agent, Loften felt that her skills and services could be put to good use. At first, Loften helped by locating open sublets for individual students in local residences. Then, in December 2012, she convinced an owner of a home near City College to let her rent the house and then sublet it to four Guardian Scholar students. In doing so, Loften was able to do what she thought was best for her students— to provide opportunities for independent living and a flexible payment schedule. “I pay the rent upfront, and they reimburse me, so I’m giving them that leisure time to get their money together,” she says.
The project has been a success with Loften’s ingenuity and outlook on foster youth being praised by tenants like Darrel Molett:
Not a lot of people believe in foster youth. They believe we mess things up more than fix things. And she took it the other way around. She said we fix things more than mess things up.
Looking forward, Loften is looking to expand her model and hopes to recruit more likeminded people to join the cause. The fate of too many young people in California and across the country is at stake. As she explains,
Somebody needs to do it. It just has to be done.