Leveraging a Critical Tool to Prevent and End Youth Homelessness

This blog post is the first in a series on Foster Youth to Independence (FYI) vouchers.

The connection between foster care and homelessness is well known among those working in the field. For youth transitioning from care who had a prior episode of homelessness, a future episode of homelessness is just as likely as avoiding it. What seems less known is the ready availability of dedicated housing assistance to help these young adults avoid or escape homelessness.

A 2019 report issued by Chapin Hall found that a history of foster care is common among young adults experiencing homelessness. Unfortunately, homelessness is also common among youth transitioning from care: more than one in four youth who turn 17 in foster care report experiencing a homeless episode by age 21. Analysis of National Youth in Transition Database (NYTD) cohorts consistently find that 1 in 2 transition-age youth who reported experiencing homelessness as a child will have at least one additional homeless episode by age 21.

But there’s a critical resource that states can tap into to keep these youth housed.

Foster Youth to Independence (FYI) vouchers provide dedicated rental assistance to support youth in two situations: youth exiting foster care who are at risk of homelessness, and youth who have become homeless (or at risk of homelessness) after having been in foster care. FYI vouchers can be accessed through a noncompetitive process by public housing agencies (PHAs) that partner with child welfare agencies that agree to identify, refer, and secure services to support eligible youth. The noncompetitive process allow eligible PHAs to access FYI vouchers on an-as needed basis, as eligible youth are identified and referred by child welfare agency partners.

FYI Voucher Usage: High Need, Low Engagement

New state-level data maps released in partnership with the National Center on Housing and Child Welfare demonstrate both high need for this housing resources and low engagement in accessing this new resource. Specifically, the maps show:

  • High numbers of youth transitioning from care experience homelessness across states;
  • Many PHAs are not yet accessing FYI vouchers to assist youth despite the evident need; and
  • Many youth preparing to transition from care will soon require housing assistance to avoid homelessness and achieve stable housing outcomes.

The maps are intended to serve as an interactive resource for state and local partners working to prevent and end homelessness for youth. The maps can be used to educate public housing and child welfare agency leaders, as well as other key stakeholders, about the urgent need for action in their state and the availability of this critically valuable resource that many localities are not yet utilizing.

The Importance of Education and Advocacy on State and Local Levels

The Alliance encourages state and local homelessness advocates to educate their state and local partners about how the FYI voucher program can prevent and end homelessness for a population at high risk. The Alliance has developed an infographic and other resource material on the FYI program for use by local partners.

Other tools that advocates may use to energize public partners and allies include:

  • State-level data from the National Youth in Transition Database (NYTD) that provides detailed information about the outcomes of youth transitioning from foster care. This data includes information for each state on multiple domains, including educational and employment attainment (which can be improved when youth have access to stable housing).
  • Localities’ own data from the Point-in-Time Count (PIT) or other surveys showing the prevalence of homelessness among young people, including those who may have exited foster care.
  • Testimony of young people who have experienced homelessness after exiting foster care and the importance of housing to stabilize their lives.

The Alliance Welcomes Your Input

The Alliance will continue work to explore state and local access and implementation of FYI vouchers. We welcome the opportunity to learn from Continuums of Care (Cocs) and other local partners leveraging this resource to connect eligible youth to housing. Please feel free to reach out to Sharon McDonald (smcdonald@naeh.org) and/or Malik Rivers (mrivers@naeh.org) to share successes and challenges in accessing and using FYI vouchers to assist youth that other localities can learn from.