Leah McDonald, of Preble Street, shares comments regarding a new federal Housing and Urban Development initiative that provides housing vouchers for youth exiting the foster care system. With her on Aug. 2 at Sagamore Village in Portland are Mark Adelson, center, of the Portland Housing Authority, and David Tille, HUD’s New England regional administrator. Michael Kelley / The Forecaster

PORTLAND — The transition from childhood to adulthood can be difficult for anyone.

That’s especially the case for those who age out of the state’s foster care system, but a new program from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development may help ease the struggle.

In late July, HUD launched Foster Youth to Independence, a nationwide program to help youth 18- to 24-year-olds navigate from the foster care system to living on their own.

“No young persons should be without a home and this program helps us further our effort to make sure we are moving in the right direction to prevent that,” David Tille, HUD New England regional administrator, said Friday, Aug. 2, at an introduction of the program at Sagamore Village, a property managed by the Portland Housing Authority.

Tille said the program will provide 25 vouchers to local housing authorities to “prevent or end homelessness for young adults under 25 who are in, or recently left the foster care system without a home to go to.”

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates more than 20,000 youth age out of foster care every year. Approximately a quarter of them, according to the National Center for Housing and Child Welfare, will experience homelessness. There are more than 2,100 children in foster care in Maine, including 131 between the ages of 17 and 20.

“No young person who grows up in foster care should experience homelessness once they set out on their own. The foundation of a stable life is stable housing, and this initiative will allow local housing, working child welfare agencies and homeless planners to focus this housing assistance to those young people who need it most,” HUD Secretary Ben Carson said in a statement announcing the program July 26.

Leah McDonald, the director of teen services at Preble Street, said to solve an issue like youth homelessness requires “deep partnerships on the local, state and federal levels.”

Every night, she said, Preble Street houses 25 youth ages 12-20 at the Joe Kreisler Teen Shelter. Without this, McDonald said, many of the youth would be sleeping in parks, vacant buildings or other unsafe situations.

Why and how youth find themselves homeless varies. Some are victims of human trafficking, some are refugees, others have been kicked out their parents’ house and still others just simply have no other place to go.

“The Foster Youth to Independence Program will help bridge the gap for vulnerable youth as they make the transition (to adulthood),” McDonald said.

Mark Adelson, executive director of Portland Housing, said he’s glad his organization can be part of a program like Foster Youth to Independence.

“We look forward to partnering in this program and are anxious to learn more about the details and, working with HUD, how the program will work in Maine,” Adelson said.

Rhonda Siciliano, New England public affairs officer for HUD, said the vouchers will pay the rent for up to 36 months for individuals 18-24 who have aged out of the foster care system. The hope is after that three-year period, individuals will have the ability to “go out and make it on their own,” she said.

Each housing authority, Siciliano said, has to identify the individuals who will be participating in the program through consultation with child welfare professionals.

Tille said it can be difficult for this population to find “safe and reliable housing,” especially in a tight and expensive housing market.

“This is another tool in our toolbox, a valuable tool, in addressing affordable housing and homelessness in Portland,” Mary Davis, director of the city’s housing and community development division, said.


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