Youths find place to call home

Nine San Mateo County youths who have grown too old for the foster-care system will now have a home and a way to become self-sufficient adults.

A new apartment complex for former foster youths who have turned 18 — the first of three planned in the county — opened Thursday in South San Francisco in an effort by the county to continue providing assistance to young people who have no support from adults.

Providing a home for emancipated foster youths is especially important because half of them become homeless within one year of leaving the foster-care system, said Renee Smylie, director of Children and Family Services. The Human Services Agency provides protection and support to more than 400 foster children in the county.

“Housing is a main staple of someone’s life — you can’t focus on a job or education or being self-sufficient if you’re worried where you [are] going to put your head at night,” Smylie said.

The new homes come rent-free for youths who are either working or studying full time. Its residents — who are being selected through an interview process by the county — will also learn how to open a bank account, cook dinner and other life skills that will help them grow into fully functioning adults, according to Smylie. The youths will only be able to stay in the homes for two years, after which they can participate in other life-skills programs offered by the county.

“We have to keep helping them so they can get into good colleges, have opportunity to find good jobs and learn good trades,” South San Francisco Mayor Pedro Gonzalez said.

San Mateo County purchased the apartment complex, located at 701 Grand Ave., with the assistance of South San Francisco. The other two homes for former foster youths will be located in East Palo Alto and an undetermined site in the county, officials said.

The youths will have a resident adviser at the complex who is herself a former foster youth. The adviser, Shameka West, a student at San Francisco State University, entered the foster-care system when she was 2 years old.

“Most former foster youth don’t have any stable housing, they are not getting income, and for the most part they don’t have any basic skills or don’t know where to turn for help,” said West, 21, who is pursuing a criminal justice degree with a minor in Africana Studies. “Transitional housing that the county is providing really helps — it’s some sort of stability that’s needed to become independent.”

svasilyuk@examiner.com

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