SAN ANTONIO – Every year, thousands of children in the Texas foster care system age out of care when they turn 18 years old. When the state turns them loose, most are unprepared for a life on their own. An estimated 40 percent will end up homeless by the time they turn 19 while others will end up in jail.
The state provides some basic life skills classes for these teens transitioning out of care, but it is not enough.
One of the biggest challenges former foster youths face after aging out of the system is finding stable, affordable housing.
"There's no parents to go to. There's no way to borrow money for your first apartment," said Elaine Hartle, CEO and co-founder of the THRU Project. "A lot of these youth will maybe try to be nice and let someone stay at their apartment, and they're evicted because of it, and then they've got that on their record."
Hartle's nonprofit saw the need and decided to do something about it. It started an affordable housing program that is designed to teach former foster youth how to successfully live independently.
"Our primary program is a mentor program. So these youth, when they age out of foster care, they have at least one trusted adult that they can go to that can help guide and support them. But it's really hard to improve your life if you don't know where you're staying tonight and, unfortunately, there are just very few transitional living programs in San Antonio that can teach these kids to live independently," Hartle said. "Even if they get an apartment on their own somehow, they usually lose it because they don't understand everything that's involved with living on your own."
Hartle said the program provides participants a rent-free apartment, with some basic furnishings, for a year. In return, the youth must attend school or work full time, take life skills classes offered by THRU and put at least $250 a month into a savings account monitored by THRU.
"At the end of the year, they will have the savings. They will have that safety net. They're going to have the life skills, and they're going to have the support they need to live independently," Hartle said. "It is so exciting. These are remarkable young men and women and, just given the opportunity, it’s amazing they can take it and run."
Moet Forman, 20, joined the program two weeks ago. She spent six years in foster care, entering at 13 and aging out at 19. She said she’s thrilled to finally have a place of her own.
"I am in a stable place, so this is good. I mean, it gives me independence and confidence," Forman said. "I never had anything by myself, so this is, like, I have my bed to myself. I have my own space. Like, this is my domain."
After bouncing around from foster home to foster home and living with friends when she aged out, Forman said she finally has hope for her future and can now see herself being successful when her year is up. She hopes to start college in the fall and keep her apartment when the program ends.
"I mean, you can do it for a year in the program. They're teaching you. You're going to have enough funds and you're working, so you should still be able to do that," Forman said.
With just 10 spots available in the program, Hartle hopes to see it expand so more youth can benefit from it going forward.
"We're just so thrilled to know that these kids have a safe place to sleep at night," Hartle said. "The whole goal here is to make sure they can be independent like everyone else, which is what they want to do."
If you want to support THRU Project as it helps more former foster youth achieve independence through programs such as this one, the nonprofit is holding a fundraiser from 4-8 p.m. Sunday at La Hacienda de Los Barrios at 18747 Redland Road.
Tickets are $25 if you buy online before the event or $35 at the door.