PORTLAND, Ore. — One of the main causes of homelessness is when youths exit foster care and are unprepared to live on their own.
At Parenting With Intent, a Portland nonprofit mentoring youth in long-term foster care, this is a problem they’re trying to fix.
One of their youths, Victoria Boam, is about to leave foster care. The nonprofit has secured grant money to continue helping her as she transitions to independent living.
“I’m just going to have to stand on my own two feet and help myself,” said Boam, who was placed in foster care at 16 years old. Growing up, she was abused by her parents who struggled with addiction.
“I had bruises on me constantly,” she said.
While under the state’s care, she became homeless, spending months couch surfing and sleeping in hotels.
“It’s very scary and you kind of have to realize that everything in the world is run by money and that if you don’t have it as a young kid and you don’t have the age to get the resources you need, you’re kind of screwed.”
A recent Point-in-Time survey counted nearly 200 people under the age of 18 experiencing homelessness in the Portland metro area, but the data suggests this number is much higher.
The report goes on to list “insufficient supports to successfully transitioning out of foster care” as one of the area's root causes of homelessness. The report says it’s these systemic factors pushing thousands of new people into homelessness each year.
Boam is 20 years old, newly married and stable enough in the court's eyes to leave care, but she faces the constant fear of ending up on the streets.
“I have a mother who’s homeless on the streets of Portland right now because of bad decisions she’s made and I try to think to myself, 'I don’t want to be there. I don’t want to be meeting her at one of the food pantries there for homeless people.'”
“These foster kids fall through the cracks,” said Keaton McFadden, who runs the Youth Empowerment Services program at Parenting With Intent. “They don’t have those adults who are teaching them life skills and just telling them that they matter.”
Their youth contracts through the Department of Human Services end once they becomes adults.
“Most of the time the youth aren’t quite ready for those services to just drop off. Often you see that there’s like a continuum of youth who are in foster care who end up houseless or struggle with their mental health,” said McFadden.
Parenting With Intent just received grant money allowing them to continue mentoring people like Boam – even after their cases close.
“We’ve developed a really mutually beneficial, authentic relationship. So it would seem like a disservice to have her case close,” added Eva Siegel, Boam’s mentor of four years.
“It feels unfair to have your case end and if that’s a celebration lose people that have been supporting you for years.”
“I’m pretty self-sufficient. I always have been like that, but I’ve tried to lean on people to ask advice from so I know I’m making the right decision before I do it,” said Boam.
Boam is one of eight people Parenting With Intent is able to continue mentoring once their case is closed. Without their grant money, people like Boam would have limited time with mentors and wouldn’t have access to any long-term services. The nonprofit is working to get more grant money to expand these services.