"Enhancing Our Human Infrastructure "
Rev. Peter E. Bauer
Two summers ago in Portland, Or I couldn't help but notice all of the homeless young people downtown clutching their nap sacks and bedding. They looked like a twenty-first century version of " Les Miserables " They were occupying the Portland Park Blocks and congregating in Pioneer Square just outside Nordstrom's. I thought why isn't anyone doing anything about this situation?
On this particular summer evening, I was scheduled to facilitate a presentation on "Healing The Soul After War" at First Congregational Church. I arrived early and so I walked down Broadway to Pioneer Square and at the corner of Broadway and Alder , I saw evidence of the trauma resulting from the economic and psychological war involving homeless youth.
There were young men and women dressed in work shirts, bandanas tied around their heads, cargo shorts, sandals and green knapsacks. Several folks were playing hacky sack . I thought that this is one thing if you do this on a balmy Summer evening with a temperature in the low 80's. It's another thing, however, if it is Winter and the temperature is in the upper 20's and there is ice along with a stiff east wind from the Columbia Gorge.
Over the years we have seen more and more youth age out of the foster care system .
According to the FosterClub, a 501© non-profit Organization located in Seaside, Or
If nothing changes... by the year 2020:
• 22,500 children will die of abuse or neglect, most before their fifth birthday
• More than 10.5 million children will spend some time in foster care
• More than 300,000 children will age out of our foster care system, some in poor health and many unprepared for success in higher education, technical college or the workforce
• 75,000 former foster youth, who aged out of the system, will experience homelessness (FosterClub2015)
Children who grow up in the foster care system can easily find themselves placed in eleven different foster homes, transferring schools thirty times and being seen by a myriad of case workers. This, of course, does not lend itself for a stable upbringing for foster children. Instead, foster children may present as being very needy, clingy, exhibiting poor self-esteem and not possessing the social skills that we would expect of young people in order to survive in our society.
At a recent panel discussion on Homeless Youth Aging Out Of The Foster Care System that was hosted by my students at the University Of Texas At San Antonio; one of the presenters, a case worker with the Texas Department Of Family And Protective Services said with pride " that he has been able to help fifty percent of the young people he works with to go to college and to trade school".
This is a remarkable achievement. Several states, including Texas, have programs where young people who grow out of the foster care system are eligible to attend a state institution of higher learning free of charge. The sad reality is that many foster care children who grow out of the system are not aware of this benefit, or they do not possess the appropriate skill sets in order to perform well in college.
During the panel discussion, we learned about the transitional living centers ( TLCS ) that have been developed to help young people progress from foster care to successful independent living. Several of these transitional living centers are sponsored by church religious organizations like the Presbyterian Children's Home, Casey Family Services and Baptist Children And Family Services of San Antonio.
These agencies are able to provide housing, assistance with educational benefits, medical care, helping young people procure jobs, or get volunteer experience that will help with securing a job along with obtaining transportation, getting a driver's license and opening up a banking and checking account.
All of these critical services for homeless youth who leave the foster care system helps to enhance the human infrastructure.
As the saying goes "the youth is the future," but what kind of future do you have if you are homeless, penniless, no transportation, no resources and you are playing hacky sack on a street corner ?
We really need to do much better in taking care of our vulnerable homeless youth. Federal, state, and local governments including the faith based organizations need to work together in partnership to improve the lives of these young people and in turn to improve the over-all health of our society.
Former New York Governor Mario Cuomo once said
" The measure of a just and compassionate society is how well it treats those who are underprivileged including women and children "
May we commit ourselves to improving, enhancing and expanding the human infrastructure for all.
"Enhancing Our Human Infrastructure "