1 in 4 youth who age out of foster care in NYC enter a homeless shelter within 3 years of leaving care.
In 2010, I was working at a non-profit social service agency and was assigned to help a young woman, let’s call her Ashley, find housing just three months before she aged out of the foster care system. We submitted a public housing application; unfortunately, she did not get an apartment before she aged out of foster care on her 21st birthday.
For several months Ashley couched surfed, essentially a homeless young woman. In a way, she had always been homeless. As a young child, Ashley was removed from her family’s home due to neglect. She then spent her adolescence bouncing from home to home, living with strangers. The resulting trauma left her ill equipped to manage the challenges facing her.
When Ashley finally moved into an apartment, she was no longer eligible for the one-time voucher covering the minimum pieces of furniture she required. I reached out to friends and found a futon mattress; not a full futon with the base, just a mattress that at least she could sleep on.
A few months later, I visited Ashley. The agency where I worked had to close Ashley’s case, but we were meeting one more time so I could assist her in accessing a free cell phone. Ashley was ecstatic to have a home of her own, but her hopelessness and sense of being lost since leaving care was painfully evident. On the studio floor apartment was the futon mattress, without a sheet, and little else, no pots or pans or even a shower curtain – only a liner purchased from a dollar store. Ashley had nothing more than what I had been able to provide, all used items donated from a friend who had been moving. I left her home feeling sad that there was so little I could do for Ashley, and wondering how she woke up everyday in her home, sleeping a few inches from the floor, still committed to pursuing her dreams.
I was dumbstruck and saddened by this enormous gap in services, the vast need these young adults have as they attempt to find their own way after a life in care. Gathering items from generous friends and scouring the web for donations, I pieced together household goods for other clients, but it was never enough. Despite that, I saw what a difference even a little bit of help could make in their lives, and I knew that if all our foster youth were to have a chance at success, a larger effort was needed to help during this important life transition.
This is how City Living NY was born. We are dedicated to assisting each youth in securing all the household goods required to create a home. But that’s just the beginning. Our mission is to ensure that these young people have every chance at the broader success available to any young adult venturing out into the real world: to link them to educational resources, and help them obtain scholarships to enter or remain in school; to work on resumes and prep for interviews; to connect to them to services; to listen to their concerns and questions; and to always be available to guide them as they build a self-sufficient life and reach for their dreams.
With gratitude and hope,
Danielle Clarke, LMSW, is a full-time social worker with CLNY. Ms. Clarke has a BS in Social Welfare and Sociology from SUNY Albany and an MSW from NYU. She brings experience working with youth from her work at Good Sheperd’s Services Juvenile Justice program and providing therapeutic services to adolescents in schools.
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