Our money where our mouth is: Keeping the kids off the streets 

San Francisco has always been a leader in smart social policy. And having spent the past four decades working to find legislative solutions, I am really proud of that. With the city of St. Francis’ reputation as one that cares about protecting our most vulnerable, you might think that housing programs to help at-risk young adults would be universally praised. But you’d be wrong.

The development of 24 transition-age youth-housing units at what was formerly the Edward II Hotel on Scott Street in the Marina district has not been without controversy. However, it’s an essential part of San Francisco’s citywide plan to ensure that young adults transitioning out of the foster care and shelter systems are getting the crucial support they need to be independent and successful.

Everyone deserves the opportunity to be housed, and for these youths it’s especially important. They have ended up on the streets through no fault of their own, due to unfortunate and often abusive family circumstances that are beyond their control. Despite all these hurdles, these young people are just like the rest of us — they simply want to have an education, a job and a safe place to live.

As a community, it should be our responsibility to support them in their efforts to achieve their full potential.

And by safe place, I don’t mean throwing them into the mix of supportive housing in the Tenderloin. Like any young adult, these youths are at a vulnerable time in their lives, where they need the best support possible. Statistics indicate that only 50 percent of foster youths graduate from high school and even fewer (2 to 3 percent) attempt a college career.

This is exactly why San Francisco has undertaken a pioneering plan to develop at least 400 units of affordable transition-age youth housing by 2015, so we can address this crisis head-on and not wait until our shelters have become crowded with youths who are homeless through no fault of their own.

The Edward II project slated for the Marina is not exactly what jumps to mind when thinking of foster care youth housing.

But why not?

San Francisco is exactly the kind of city to model development solutions to social problems, and I would argue that nontraditional neighborhoods such as the Marina and Cow Hollow are exactly where we want to develop these housing opportunities for our youths. Youths exiting foster care deserve to feel the stability of a safe neighborhood.

Small housing developments tailored to give youths a sense of community are what work best. Studies have shown that 20 to 25 units are an ideal environment for young adults to thrive in, where they will get the kind of one-on-one attention and support they need. Having competent and compassionate staff to provide wraparound services such as job training and education support also is essential. In fact, it’s this kind of support that will enable young people residing at Edward II to reach their full potential and live productive lives.

We must support a new vision for ensuring foster care youths transition successfully into adulthood. Supportive housing for our youths is essential, and we have a moral obligation to ensure these developments succeed.

John Burton is a former congressman, California state senator and assemblyman. He now chairs the California Democratic Party.

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