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First Things First: TAY Housing Essential For Education

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As a City College Board Trustee, I have always advocated for the students that need and rely on City College the most: our young men and women who have been priced out of the State and University of California systems, and who are struggling to make ends meet while working toward their degree.

I am proud to have been part of the coalition that brought the Gateway to College program to City College in the hopes that we would see a marked increase in high school drop-outs receiving bachelor's and AA degrees. The program caters to Transition Age Youth (TAY) who for whatever reason have fallen behind in their testing and grades, or who aged out of high school without graduating, but are now ready to go after their degree and succeed. 80% of the TAY youth at the San Francisco Superior Court's Youth Guidance Center do not have a GED, and realistically do not know how to obtain one. Youth aging out of foster care are finding they do not have the same access to college support as their peers, or a family structure to guide them.

The City has finally begun the work of helping Transition Age Youth find a pathway to success with the establishment of a TAY Task Force and programs like Gateway to College. Yet at a recent Youth Commission hearing, a much bigger issue emerged as the number one roadblock to independence: housing.

According to Larkin Street Youth Services' extensive survey, a conservative number of 5,700 young people in San Francisco are either homeless or at-risk of homelessness every year -- and obtaining an education is the furthest thing from their minds. One former foster youth testified at the hearing, "I wanted to finish my education. I wanted to get a job. But how are you supposed to do any of that when you don't even know where you're sleeping night to night? How am I supposed to go on a job interview when I can't even shower?" His sentiments were echoed through the rest of the hearing.

The Mayor's Office on Housing has proposed a citywide plan to build 400 units of affordable temporary housing to support Transition Age Youth, which would also come with wrap-around services like job training, life coaches and case managers.

One in particular will be voted on October 4th, at the Board of Supervisors. The Edward II project will be staffed by Larkin Street Youth Services, a nationally-recognized non-profit that serves homeless youth.

We should all be supporting programs like Larkin Street, where 93% of the youth who attempted a GED test component successfully passed, and 65 participating youth enrolled in city college or postsecondary courses last year alone. In the past 18 months, the Postsecondary Success Program has expanded to form a partnership with City College's Guardian Scholars Program, where participants receive priority registration for Fall 2011 classes. It also includes a staff member who spends 16 hours a week working with students at City College. These kinds of successes don't happen without significant planning, though.

If San Francisco wants to see lower crime rates, better jobs, healthier families and a more engaged citizenry, we have to have a plan for the thousands of young people who slip between the cracks every single year. Education is one component I am proud to advocate for, but it cannot be an isolated component. Housing, health care, and job training are clearly the other elements that must be addressed in concert with education.

I have become a vocal supporter of the Booker T Washington and Edward II housing developments not because I am a progressive San Franciscan, an African-American or even a young father. I support these projects because I know that education and job opportunities cannot happen without stable and safe housing, and so we must prioritize housing for our youth first if we want to see change.

On October 4th, the Supervisors will have an opportunity with their votes to build a foundation for young people who want to turn their lives around -- and maybe even run for Supervisor themselves someday.