By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
The nationwide study released March 9 makes the first fiscal argument for what is claimed by advocates anecdotally — that the long-term costs of abandoning young adults is much more expensive than helping them. The study, which focuses on the increased earnings these youth earn if they manage to get a college education, concludes that keeping young adults in foster care could mean a $2.40 return on every dollar spent.
The report did not include the price of maintaining a population of former foster kids who hang out on the rooftops of tough urban areas for safety and sleep in abandoned buildings: the increased medical, prison, rehab, welfare and teen-pregnancy costs.
The study’s lead researcher, Mark Courtney, director of Partners for Our Children at the University of Washington, says foster youth are cut off at 18 because, historically, the foster-care apparatus did not want to take on extended caseloads. “If you talk to someone in the [children’s services] department, off the record they will probably tell you it is shameful that we do this,” he says.
In Los Angeles County, juvenile courts are charged with ensuring these youths have ID cards, Social Security cards and some idea where they are going to live, work or go to school — the basics that a parent would normally shepherd. Rhelda Shabazz, head of the Youth Services Department for DCFS, admits that some young people get pushed out of foster care when they are clearly not ready. “Although we know it does happen,” she says, “we trust the juvenile courts to fill their role as partner and gatekeeper.”
Some 400 “transitional housing” beds are available for the 1,200 youth fresh out of foster care each year in Los Angeles, as well as the roughly 2,000 who are still under 21 and, under the rules, can jostle for the same few beds.
Rico leads Starr to a “luxury” apartment building just off Hollywood Boulevard. He hops a gate, unlocks it for her, and in the elevator presses “R.”
The doors open. The air is fresh. The roof commands a view from downtown to the Hollywood sign. Rico takes off his shoes and dips his feet in the rooftop pool. The sun is pulling low and there’s a chill in the air.
Rico used to live up here, before the security guards caught on. Like other kids who try to get up off the streets, sometimes he would sleep under the sky and stare out at illuminated Griffith Observatory. When it got cold, he would climb into the crawlspace under the pool.
Although Starr never stayed up here with him, she immediately sees the appeal. “It’s a funny way to see the city,” she says. “I am always seeing places where I can sleep.”
“It’s really just us two,” Rico says. “If you got a girlfriend, that’s your best friend.” Starr looks at him and smiles. “I don’t know what I’d do without him,” she says. “Now I can understand why those older homeless people talk to themselves.”
In the growing gloom, Rico and Starr descend and head back to their room in an “abando,” hidden from the traffic coursing along Hollywood Boulevard.