Many Homeless Adults Start their Journey in Foster Care
by Michelle Phipps-Evans
Foster care placement is one of the childhood risk factors, which predicts adult homelessness. A mother with a childhood history of foster care is far more likely to become homeless than one who has never entered the foster care system.
Darlesha Joyner is one such mother who comprises more than 6,500 District residents without permanent homes.
"I'm tired and frustrated," said Joyner, 22, who entered Maryland's foster care system at 14 years old. Her 18-month-old son rested on her hip with his legs akimbo. "My issue is not only with living in the shelter but even before. I don't want to be here."
Since January, Joyner, a mother of two, has lived in the old D.C. General Hospital, which was repurposed as a family shelter in Southeast. Recent reports indicate it houses 284 families with nearly 600 children, more than half of them under the age of 12.
Joyner experienced a series of losses over a short time. At four years old, her mother died. Her father followed at seven. One grandmother died when she was 10 and another at 14. Since the age of seven, she was bounced around by family members, living from house to house, until she entered foster care, the native Washingtonian said.
"My family said I was hard headed," said Joyner who has a learning disability. At 18, she emancipated herself by leaving the foster care system, got into domestic violence situations, lived in hallways and slept outdoors.
She joined several persons who testified at Ward 1 Council member Jim Graham's public oversight hearing on D.C. General's services and management onsite at the shelter on Feb. 28.
"These children are wards of the city and we have special responsibility for them," said Graham, chair of the Committee on Human Services with oversight authority over D.C. General. "In the process, we become their parents, and we should anticipate their needs when they're emancipated."
One woman revealed she was a foster child from 2 to 21 years old, and now lives at D.C. General.
The D.C. Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA), the city's child welfare agency, reported in 2008 that more than one-third of the youth leaving the system at 21 did so with "few or none of the supports and resources ... to ensure sustainable independent living."
This vexing national problem of foster care becoming a breeding ground for future homeless adults isn't new.
The 1994 Green Book from the U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Ways and Means, reported that mid-1980s surveys indicated significant numbers of homeless shelter users were recently discharged from foster care. The book provides data under the committee's jurisdiction.
Children "age out" of the system when they're discharged from government care, between 18 and 21. As young adults, they're forced into pseudo independence with little resources to assume adulthood.
Earlier this month, the D.C. Alliance of Youth Advocates (DCAYA), a coalition of youth-engaged organizations and residents found that 40 percent of D.C.'s homeless youth were in the foster care or juvenile justice systems.
"Young adults, under the best circumstances, don't turn 18 or 21 years old and magically become rational, self-sufficient adults; and a history of trauma, abuse or neglect further impacts their social-emotional development," said Maggie Riden, a DCAYA senior policy analyst at a council oversight hearing. "To achieve lasting stability, this population needs an array of supportive resources ... not defined by age, but by scope of need."
Young people in foster care leave placements due to conflicts, or they seek more familiar surroundings, Riden said.
But, to Ressurrection Graves, reasons for leaving are more ominous. She said national evidence-based studies maintained that 20 to 30 percent of children in foster care are sexually abused, which leads to early emancipation.
"Child sexual abuse has its own set of traumas, which are linked to adult homelessness," said Graves, a child sexual abuse expert and survivor, and a homeless mother for three years. Due to her traumatic experiences Graves, who was raised in the D.C. area, will launch in August a nonprofit that offers alternative shelter solutions for those seeking transitional housing.
"The trauma of being removed from the home causes disruptions, and those build over time," said Nicki Sanders, a Columbia, Md., social worker. "Children in foster care move on average about seven times. They have new schools, rules to follow, values, academic and social challenges. There's instability in the life of a foster child on a consistent basis, in many cases."
This cycle will probably continue for Joyner's children. Her three-year-old daughter is in foster care.
"Our child and family welfare system continues to be a pipeline into homelessness and instability for hundreds of youth each year," Riden added.
New Overseer Could Disrupt Oakland Police Routines
by Laird Harrison
Oakland police officers can expect to see change in their department.
Thomas Frazier, appointed to oversee the Oakland police by a federal judge on Monday, has a reputation as an innovator not afraid to shatter police department traditions.
Frazier is taking on a job that previous chiefs could not, or would not, do: bring the department into harmony with diverse, leftist, anti-authoritarian factions in the community. And he must do so at a time of tight budgets and spiraling crime.
“He's walking into a tornado,” said Peter Keane, a Hastings Law School professor who served on the San Francisco Police Commission.
Frazier did not respond to a request to comment for this article.
Frazier brought big changes to the Baltimore Police Department when he ran it as commissioner from 1994 to 1999, shuffling detectives to patrol positions and even banning the department's trademark style of nightstick, the espantoon.
He later served in a federal agency that helped boost community policing efforts around the country.
He brings to the job a familiarity with the Bay Area gained from his steady rise to deputy police chief in San Jose. And he oversaw consent decrees at the Los Angeles and Detroit police departments.
And as a consultant, Frazier criticized the Oakland Police Department for its harsh tactics in the face of the Occupy Oakland protests of 2011.
“Frazier's background is tailor-made for this job,” said Keane.
The appointment results from civil rights violations that led to a lawsuit and a consent decree in which the city of Oakland agreed to a series of reforms. U.S. District Court Judge Thelton Henderson lost patience with the city's progress on these reforms last year.
To bring the department into compliance, Frazier will have to address a history of tensions that go back at least to its violent clashes with the Black Panther movement of the 1960s and '70s.
Civil rights violations came to the surface in the 1990s when a handful of rogue officers, known as the Riders, were accused of planting evidence, beating suspects and falsifying reports.
Such abuses led directly to the 2003 consent decree, but it was “consent” on paper only, at least in the first few years after it was signed, according to John Burris, one of the attorneys behind the lawsuit.
“The culture of the department is fundamentally resistant to change,” he said.
Since then, the department has struggled with a constantly shuffling leadership, Burris pointed out. It has had three new chiefs since 2005. (Coincidentally, one of them, Anthony Batts, is now Baltimore's police commissioner.)
Frazier will be paid $270,000 a year. Technically he will serve as compliance director, working on civil rights issues while Chief Howard Jordan focuses on law enforcement.
“I don't think he will see himself as running the department,” said Burris. “I think he will be supporting Jordan.”
But Frazier will have the authority to fire Jordan, and Keane speculated that Jordan will find himself chief in name only.
He said Frazier's position will be equivalent to a "czar." "This has never been done in terms of a major American city," he said. "I would suspect that Chief Jordan is not going to be comfortable. I would think someone in Jordan's position will be looking for greener pastures.”
To complicate the picture further, Oakland just retained William Bratton, the former New York police commissioner and former Los Angeles police chief, as a consultant.
Some clues about how Frazier might work on the department come from his past, both as Baltimore police commissioner (a position equivalent to police chief) and as director of the Justice Department's Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS).
Frazier was one of the first, if not the first, Baltimore police commissioner who came to the job from outside the department, said Jeffrey Ian Ross, a criminologist at the University of Baltimore.
“There's a recognition that if you want someone to shake things up, you're going to need someone who is external,” said Ross.
He remembers Frazier instituting efforts to improve relations between the police and the community, such as a 311 non-emergency phone number and police athletic leagues. He also gives Frazier credit for instituting a system for tracking crime statistics, similar to New York's CompStat.
Frazier's approach didn't always sit well with the officers he supervised, according to a 1994 article in the Baltimore Sun.
The newspaper's description of the department then sounds a bit like Oakland 2013:
an agency dogged by brutality complaints, petty corruption, and internal strife fueled by racial friction. The city was reeling from its second-straight record-setting year for homicides.
Frazier ordered raids on drug-ridden neighborhoods, followed by visits from sanitation crews to clean up the mess left behind, the newspaper reported. The city's murder rate dropped.
But beat officers criticized him as “TV Tom” for his frequent appearances on television, the paper said. And they grumbled that he didn't support them when they were accused of brutality.
He infuriated some detectives by rotating them into patrol shifts, according to reports at the time. Frazier defended the practice as a way of giving more officers opportunity for advancement.
In another story, the Sun recounted allegations that Frazier favored white officers over black ones.
At COPS, Frazier encouraged other police departments to institute community policing, a set of techniques aimed at making police departments more accountable, systematic and cooperative.
“You can't underestimate the kind of experience you get there,” said Ross. “The guy has a big picture kind of vision, unlike a lot of police chiefs and commissioners who have tunnel vision.”
(Copy of agreement is available on site)