Monday, November 26, 2007

Housing center for emancipated youth opens


After spending 12 years in the foster care system in Santa Barbara County, Manny became one of about 30 emancipated youth that turn 18 and leave foster care every year. Without family support, a job or educational assistance, he was forced to live on the streets for two years.
Now 21, Manny has finally found a home, along with six other emancipated youth, in the newly opened La Morada Youth Transitional Center. Funded by a state program and organized by the County of Santa Barbara, the center provides housing, food, utilities, and job and educational assistance to seven “graduates” of the County’s foster care program.

“Coming from nothing, this is a blessing,” Manny said. “I’m really happy to be a part of the first group and to know that this is going to help a lot of kids.”
At a ribbon-cutting ceremony today, dozens of community leaders, foster care staff and County officials gathered to officially open the doors of the 6,400 square-foot, eight-bed facility on San Antonio Road.
County Supervisor Janet Wolf and Kathy Gallagher, director of the Department of Social Services, joined Assemblymember Pedro Nava to recognize the effort to get La Morada up and running. Before cutting the ceremonial ribbon, Gallagher emphasized the serious need for housing for emancipated youth in the Santa Barbara area.
“One out of six foster care graduates end up homeless,” she said. “For us, that is not satisfactory. It is a recipe for failure when foster youth move out into the community without that support and family that we all have.”
With funding through the state’s Transitional Housing Placement-Plus Program, former foster care youth living at La Morada will receive comprehensive support services designed to help them make a successful transition to independent living.
“We’re looking at a long-range commitment at La Morada and we’re hoping for a great outcome for the seven youth living here now,” Gallagher said.
Each resident receives their own room, access to a roomy living area and spacious kitchen stocked with food, and a $200 monthly stipend that is placed in a savings account and turned over to them upon their graduation from the program.
Staff from Family Care Network will work with each resident to design individualized plans with specific educational and employment goals. Autumn, one of the inaugural residents of La Morada, told attendees how much the center has already changed her life.
“I was in the position where I was trying to advance my education, and it’s hard to go to school and work at the same time without a stable roof over your head,” she said. “It just came together at the perfect time. It’s been such a blessing.”
Although there are currently 17 other similar centers across the state, La Morada is the first in Santa Barbara County, which has seen a drastic increase in the number of foster children in recent years, from 300 in 2005 to about 600 today. Gallagher attributed that rise to the recent meth epidemic that has plagued the state.
The transitional housing center has been four years in the making, ever since the County Social Services Department took over the building along with the Sheriff’s Department and General Services Department and began rehabilitating it to create a clean, dorm-style environment.
Warm light from numerous windows and skylights floods the recreational area, replete with plush couches and a fireplace. Portraits of the seven inaugural members drawn by artist Colin Gray hang along a hallway leading to their bedrooms.
Manny, who recently took an apprenticeship at Walter Claudio Salon Spa in Santa Barbara and hopes to become a renowned hairstylist, said he feels incredibly blessed to have his portrait hanging in that hallway.
“It’s a beautiful thing,” he said. “It’s a beautiful place.”

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