The article below originally appeared on MercuryNews.com and is being reprinted with permission.
A group of young adults live together in a South San Francisco triplex — it’s like anything you would find near a college campus.
They all take college classes, but that’s not what brought them together. They were emancipated around age 18 and joined THP-Plus, a state transitional housing program operated by San Mateo County aimed at reducing homelessness among former foster youths.
There’s no simple guidebook for instructing youths like these how to survive after they age out of foster care or the juvenile probation system. And a percentage of them, for lack of experience in money management, communication or interpersonal relationships, don’t make it — or at least don’t reach their full potential.
However, there are success stories — lots of them — and that’s something social workers in the field attribute to personalized planning.
“We basically provide a dormlike environment,” program coordinator Sophia Daniel said. “They have to have some internal motivation.”
The South San Francisco site is the only one of its kind in the county, and those who live there are allowed to stay up to two years provided they follow guidelines related to monthly community service, productive activity and curfews.
In the apartments, some of the youths hang out together, some work and some do their own thing.
Concerned about their privacy, most of the teens did not want to be interviewed, but 19-year-old Marcus Bell is no stranger to speaking out about the foster care system. He helped campaign for the California Fostering Connections to Success Act, which makes some foster youths eligible to stay in foster care until age 21.
Bell entered the system when he was 6 months old, bouncing around between half a dozen homes in San Mateo County and Oakland. Some of his placements were highly abusive and others “just OK.” Either way, he never felt that he lucked out with a family.
“I tell people not to pity me because, for all I know, having a real mom would have been worse,” Bell said.
His San Mateo County social worker, Pat Haas, was the closest thing he ever had to a mother, and when she died she left some college money to him and his two brothers, who were also in foster care.
Bell graduated from Terra Nova High School in Pacifica, but the past couple of years before emancipating were a struggle.
He said it’s a time when many people in the foster system face a fork in the road that determines how their lives are going to go.
He believes THP-Plus, where he’s been for 18 months, has turned his life around.
Today he’s working, studying at the College of San Mateo and wants to become a psychologist.
“It feels really good to come from no support to full support,” Bell said.
The youths received some presents this year, and different organizations came to help them celebrate in different ways. But it can be a difficult time of year — for some more than others.
“We are one piece of their family and definitely view the community of emancipated foster youth as a family, but all of them have different people in their lives,” program manager Stephanie Weisner said.
Bell said he received invitations from friends to join their families for holidays, but he prefers to spend them alone. He hasn’t celebrated holidays much since he left foster care.
“For me, it’s not daunting or scary to be a alone on Christmas,” he said.
A place to call home
The program: THP-Plus offers state-provided transitional housing, operated by the counties, for foster youths after they turn 18.
The law: The Fostering Connections to Success Act establishes transitional
assistance for individuals until they turn 21.
The transition: Residents live in a dormlike setting, observing guidelines and curfews, and doing community service.