Baltimore's Foster Youth Face Homelessness—by Shantel Randolph

Baltimore's Foster Youth Face Homelessness—by Shantel Randolph

Homelessness is an issue that should be a concern to everyone in Baltimore, yet many of our young people are still homeless and living on the streets. Baltimore City currently has over 7,000 youths in care, and of these, roughly half will spend at least one year in foster care, with 20 percent staying longer than three years. Adults who were in foster care are more likely to be homeless, incarcerated, and dependent on state services than the general population.

Being a foster youth and homeless seems to be more and more common everyday. I would know: I was a foster youth who faced the reality of becoming homeless at one point or another. My name is Shantel Randolph and I am now an Open Society Institute Fellow, currently working with Baltimore’s foster youth within the Public School System. As a former foster youth “aging out’ of the child welfare system came with its share of reality and hard learned truths. At the age of 17, I entered an independent living facility and was thrust into a whole new world of adulthood, freedom, and responsibility. As a foster youth growing up with my aunt, I thought being responsible was taking care of everyone else instead if myself. I had not learned the life skills needed to go on to independent living or adulthood.

Being the confident person I am, I tried to learn as much as I could on my own. Simple tasks like paying rent or buying food to put in our house is something that we assume we should know. After turning 21 and moving into my own apartment, I thought I had it all together—but I was wrong. Not only did I lose my job, but I could not afford to pay my rent, and I almost ended up on the street. The idea of becoming homeless was enough to scare me straight and fortunately I got myself together, got a job, and learned how to pay my bills. Many of my friends, who were also in foster care, ended up homeless. I often had to open my apartment to give them a place to stay.

My organization Foster Youth, Incorporated, strives to educate other foster youth on what they can do not to end up homeless and on the street. Our advice includes obligatory savings accounts, making life skills training a requirement in all Baltimore City schools, and following up on foster youth, to see if they need help, before its to late. I believe homelessness is an issue that can be solved with proper training and assistance from the government. With the help of the local communities, we can begin to identify the early stages of homelessness’ and offer tools or programs that can stop our foster youth from ending up on the street and ruining the chance at a good life. We need more mentors and leaders who reach out and help our foster youth. I hope that as these things start to happen, we can prevent foster youth from becoming homeless here in Baltimore City.