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Homeless young adults finally meet their housing match in Orange County

July 14 figures to be a big day for Marquis Bowen.

That’s when Bowen, 24, could be approved to get money that will help him move into a place of his own. Right now, he shares a Costa Mesa apartment with an older cousin, but during his brief time as an adult he’s also had bouts of homelessness.

Bowen could qualify for housing money on Tuesday because his name is likely to come up during what is known as a “housing placement match meeting,” get-togethers that involve people who help funnel state and federal dollars earmarked to battle homelessness in Orange County to the people who need help with housing. It’s part of the county’s Coordinated Entry System, a gateway to government-subsidized, supportive housing for locals who are homeless or at risk of soon being homeless.

Until recently, Bowen wouldn’t necessarily have been part of that conversation, but that’s changing.

Bowen is among a group of on-again, off-again homeless young adults, age 18 to 24 years old, who are classified as Transitional Age Youth. In the vernacular of public policy, they’re referred to as the TAY population.

Many spent part or much of their childhood in foster care but, upon turning 18, were left to survive on their own. Often, that meant living on the streets.

In recent years, there’s been a national push to better address the housing needs of the TAY population. A big part of the effort involves data — tracking their numbers in homeless counts, such as the federally-mandated Point In Time census — and getting their names into the Coordinated Entry System.

Now, there are stepped-up efforts to provide federal housing vouchers and other rental assistance to these young adults as a way to stabilize their lives.

On June 16, Orange County started holding match meetings that were specific to TAY candidates. Previously, these young adults were included in the same group as older, chronically homeless adults. Nearly always, those older people had needs that would take priority.

The impetus for the county’s action came from a nonprofit that works with homeless youth, StandUp For Kids Orange County.  The group recently was awarded an Emergency Solutions Grant, money for housing that’s been made available by the federal Dept. of Housing and Urban Development. California’s portion of the grant is funneled to local jurisdictions, which can use it to address homelessness directly or assign it to nonprofits.

But the grant money can only be spent on Transitional Age Youth who are approved for housing and other assistance through the county’s Coordinated Entry System. Anaheim awarded StandUp for Kids $33,000 to house young people who have been homeless in Anaheim or have ties to the city. Irvine has granted the nonprofit about $48,000, while StandUp for Kids has also applied for grant money from Garden Grove.

Holding match meetings that are TAY-specific — talks that focus on struggling young adults like Bowen — are crucial, said Justine Palmore, executive director of StandUp for Kids Orange County.

“Now, they’re not in the pile,” Palmore said of the young adults who typically get the attention of a handful of service providers.

“They are going through their own scoring system. They will be housed faster.”

Bureaucracy at work

The grant money secured by StandUp for Kids will be used for rapid re-housing, which typically includes help in finding a place, move-in costs and temporary rental assistance as the client transitions to self sufficiency.

Over the years, StandUp for Kids has used private funding to rent rooms for the young people it assists (apartments are too costly). The group helps about 100 youth a year get into some type of housing, with 85 percent able to cover rent on their own after they get jobs, Palmore said.

“The goal is to have them paying their rent by the fourth month,” Palmore said. “Rapid re-housing is not forever.”

At that first TAY match meeting last month, four of the eight candidates proposed by StandUp for Kids were approved. That was out of a group that, in all, included 20 names, said Michael Olson, the nonprofit’s director of development, who was among homeless services providers that participated in the June 16 meeting.

“The key is, you have to have a person advocating on your behalf in that meeting, or you most likely will be skipped,” Olson said.

Orange County’s Coordinated Entry System is managed by the Office of Care Coordination and its new director, Jason Austin, who in April replaced the county’s first so-called “homeless czar,” Susan Price, after she became Costa Mesa’s assistant city manager.

According to Austin, his office, which is now a part of the Orange County Health Care Agency, had been planning to begin the TAY-specific match meetings sometime in the new fiscal year, which began July 1.

Austin said it became clear in last year’s Point in Time count of local homeless people that services were needed for TAY people. The count found 275 homeless young adults, half of whom identified as Hispanic or Latino. The Point in Time census, which Orange County conducts every other year, is widely considered to be an undercount of homeless people, particularly when it comes to young adults. Palmore said StandUp for Kids alone helps about 400 young adults annually.

Austin said the county has a long-term commitment to the TAY match meeting and other initiatives to “address their unique needs.”

 From Blythe to bliss

While he was never in foster care, Bowen, a program manager for a drug and alcohol recovery group, survived a tumultuous adolescence. He says his father routinely abused phencyclidine, or PCP, known more commonly as Angel Dust, and other family members, and friends, around his age have died from heroin overdoses.

Bowen started his own struggle with drugs — pills, acid, cocaine — when he was just 11.

He grew up in the Riverside County town of Blythe and came to Orange County for drug rehabilitation at the suggestion of the cousin he lives with today, who had changed his own life. Bowen, who remains close to his mother, has been in a couple of local recovery programs. He’s been sober most of the past three years.

In November of 2017, he became homeless. A recovery house in San Clemente kicked him out after it had spent what he described as fraudulently obtained health insurance money ostensibly for his rehabilitation — an all too common practice. Bowen ended up roaming the streets, and relapsed. His cousin had told him about StandUp for Kids, though he initially resisted reaching out. But when he did, Bowen said, he wound up talking with Palmore, who “understood what was going on and guided me.”

Bowen soon cleaned up, got a job and had a place to stay. He lived with his cousin for a time, sleeping on his couch. Then he lived with the mother of their 8-month-old daughter, but he returned to his cousin when that relationship soured. Staying clean, Bowen says, is a tough challenge. But StandUp for Kids is always there to support him.

Bowen has held his job for two years. He also volunteers with StandUp for Kids as a mentor for other young people. And he’s trying to save money for a place of his own.

Once he gets established in either a room or apartment, he’s sure he’ll be able to keep paying rent. He just needs help to get started; finding a place and getting his foot in the door without a credit history. Once he has a home of his own, he hopes to get joint custody of his daughter.

A StandUp for Kids housing navigator can help him find something affordable in Anaheim. Bowen prefers an apartment but will take what he can get. The nonprofit can help with rent for up to six months, but after that Bowen knows it’ll be his responsibility.

“You finally get your own place. God finally blessed you,” he said.

“Now, it’s time to do your part.”

Source: Orange County Register

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