Chipping away at homelessness by supporting foster youth

Roman Bodnarchuk

Sometimes, particularly in government, complex and potentially divisive issues must be solved by systematically chipping away at a problem where we’re able.

New York City’s continuing homelessness crisis is no exception. When it comes to solving an issue that touches every street in the five boroughs, consensus is often hard to come by. But I am positive that ultimately we will be able to find a resolution, in part by making incremental changes that aim to prevent the most vulnerable populations from falling into homelessness.

One such population is our foster youth, particularly 18- to 24-year olds who have recently aged out of the foster care system. They remain particularly susceptible to homelessness in a city where even young adults from affluent families can struggle to pay the rent.

With a continuous need for affordable housing throughout my community, it is particularly heartbreaking to hear about the stories of young men and women who have found themselves homeless for no other reason than being too old to be in the foster care system.

The ramifications of being homeless at such an age can be devastating, with evidence showing that 18- to 24-year olds without a roof over their heads are more prone to mental health issues, substance abuse, criminal activity and susceptibility to victimization.

But we can prevent this. Here at the City Council, I was pleased to join Councilman Stephen Levin of Brooklyn, the chairman of the Council’s General Welfare Committee, who has been steadfast in finding solutions for foster care youth and for homelessness, to secure passage of a resolution this week. In it we urge Albany to take up legislation by Queens Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi that aims to increase subsidies for former foster youth that haven’t been updated for nearly 30 years.

Hevesi realized that the current housing subsidies set aside for former foster youth were dated and ineffective, and he has proposed legislation that would increase the housing subsidy from $300 to $600 per month, extend the age eligibility from 21 to 24 for youth who have aged out of foster care, and allow former foster youth to live with roommates to afford their rent.

The passage of this legislation is a no-brainer. As we continue to fight to find solutions that work to curb the overall levels of homelessness in our communities, Hevesi’s practical proposal and our supporting resolution offer the rare opportunity to work to prevent homelessness from occurring within a very important population in the first place.

We have a lot of work ahead of us to combat homelessness, and while it’s not lost on me that our resolution and the legislation it pertains to addresses only a small fragment of the overall problem, passage of our resolution at City Hall nonetheless leaves me feeling optimistic that we can in fact begin to make small but monumental strides in solving a very important issue to our city and state.

Now, let’s make sure Albany follows through. If we work together on making these incremental gains, we move one step closer to solving the homelessness crisis.

Rafael Salamanca is a New York City Council member representing the 17th Council District in the Bronx.