How the high cost of housing in San Francisco is putting extraordinary stress on the foster care system.

Over the months we have tried to share with you in whatever medium was at hand the unique challenges related to having spent time in foster care. There are many challenges facing youth across our nation but foster care has challenges that can belong only to those who have experienced the trauma of being removed from your home and placed in another person’s house. An event that happens through no choice of your own.

These challenges facing youth in foster dare also have local flavors. One of the particular challenges of entering into foster care in the City/County of San Francisco is the lack of available home placement. That is, there are not enough families willing to house foster youth. The explanations are probably as complex as this city but one of them is purely economic: housing is so expensive that people cannot afford the extra bedroom.Extra bedrooms, in which to house guests or foster youth, are hard to find and/or afford.

As a result, and I really need you to hear this statistic, as a result a full 60% of foster youth from SF are placed outside of their city. That is, 6 in 10 foster youth who are at home in San Francisco, grew up in the city, know themselves through the eyes of the city of SF, are placed outside of their familiar surroundings when they are placed into care.

Now some of these children and youth are placed in abutting counties and cities. But many are housed in California’s Central Valley, over one hundred miles away from San Francisco where houses are less expensive and larger. And even though it is in California the culture, the environment, the terrain of the Central Valley is so different.

Now, this statistic has deeply affected me somewhere deep. Ten months into this venture we call Braid I wasn’t certain there was any “deeply affected” left in me. But, I think this statistic hooked me because it evoked some angst from my own childhood. 

We had just moved to Knoxville, Tennessee, as a family when a month later we discovered that we were moving to England because of my father’s work. So I was to experience at least two moves in four months. The move to Knoxville was from another city in East Tennessee, so the culture was familiar. The move to England was completely unknown and almost immediate. We had no time to process, let alone plan for landing in a very different culture (yes, all you anglophiles, it is a very different culture). We had no place to live when we arrived so we rented rooms over a pub, until we found a house to rent and an English school in which to place my brother and me.

Three months later we bought a house in a different village and moved into a different school, this one an all-boys school. Many of the Americans we met, both business families or military families, attended the American school in London. Not the Chase boys. Local cultural immersion was the philosophy in our house. And so, we lived as nomads for six months with none of our stuff and when we finally landed it was in a shockingly different world. And swirling around the entire adventure were feelings of loss, and confusion, and anger and depression. It was the anger that I felt the strongest, born out of the fact that I had no voice in any decision that was made over those months.

The point of this story is to explain why it is that the above statistic, that 60% of youth are housed/placed outside their familiar environs, troubles me. You are living in your neighborhood, with your friends, attending your school and walking to your corner store one day. Suddenly, after a night full of noise and police and social workers and a trip to the placement center at San Francisco General and then two days later to find yourself in a strange house in Berkeley, or Antioch, or Modesto…how does a child begin to make sense of that. And imagine the emotions born.

The point of my story was not even to begin to equate my experience to the experience of entering into foster care. While I may not have seen my stuff for several months I still awoke, albeit in strange places, with the same mother still preparing breakfast and eating that breakfast next to my two brothers. And, eventually, I knew I would sleep in my bed that I knew was in storage in the docklands of London.

But these 60% wake up in a city and neighborhood that is NOT theirs and without the parent who was present the night before, and if they had siblings they are usually placed somewhere different, so the brother you laughed with is no longer present, and you have a black trash bag that contains all the stuff that is yours and the rest of your things that you don’t know if you will ever see again and your entire world, the city of SF is lost. Your neighborhood. Lost. Your friends. Lost. Your school. Lost. Your corner store. Lost.

60% is a shocking number. I know that God is calling Braid to consider being a part of a solution. I know that sounds audacious and ambitious. Yet…

We just have to trust the Spirit to show us how.

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