Domingo remembers being homeless on the streets of Honolulu, and he doesn’t want to go back.
He was around 19 years old, and after nearly 9 years in Oahu foster homes and a short time on the U.S. mainland to be closer to family, he felt like he had nowhere to go. So he gave his former Hale Kipa case manager a call.
“I told her that my time on the mainland didn’t really work out, and that I had come back home,” said Domingo, who is now 22 years old. “Home is where you get help. But I didn’t have any family here anymore. When I was in foster care, I had the system, and when I tried to come back, the system wasn’t the same.”
For about a year, he found a safe place in the Youth Outreach (YO!) Program, which Hale Kipa has run since 1989 in coordination with Waikiki Health. The program provides street outreach, drop-in services, case management, and health and medical services to hundreds of runaway, homeless, and street-identified youth and young adults each year.
Domingo started working toward his high school diploma by taking classes at James Campbell High School, followed by enrollment in Job Corps, a program administered by the U.S. Department of Labor that provides free education and vocational training to youth and young adults. Neither worked out, and his housing arrangement was also in jeopardy.
He again turned to his Hale Kipa case manager, who enrolled him in Hale Kipa’s Step Up Housing Program, available to eligible young adults who were in foster care after turning 16 years old. The program provides Housing Choice Vouchers to participants ages 18-24 years old, offering assistance through Section 8 for up to 3 years. The vouchers, which are funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, cover a portion of rent payments. Participants initially pay between 30-40 percent of their monthly adjusted income toward the remaining rent and utilities. As they earn more, their responsibility increases, until they no longer need the vouchers.
Through the program, Domingo secured an apartment in Makiki, where he has lived for the past 2 years. He found steady work at Pearl Harbor installing flooring, and he recently welcomed a baby boy with his girlfriend. In July he entered the Family Self-Sufficiency Program (FSS), which is intended to help young adults transitioning out of Step Up and other similar programs with an additional 5 years of support.
FSS is overseen by the City & County of Honolulu Department of Community Services Section 8 Rental Assistance Branch, and helps with housing, case management, resource connection and savings.
Hale Kipa is actively working with at-risk youth in its programs to determine eligibility and complete paperwork for available Section 8 assistance. The majority of Section 8 candidates are enrolled in Hale Kipa’s Imua Kākou or Independent Living programs, which provide support for youth and young adults in or transitioning out of foster care.
“We provide case management support to young adults throughout Step Up and the Family Self-Sufficiency Program so we can ultimately help them achieve independence,” said Brooke, a Hale Kipa assistant program coordinator who works with Domingo. “Like Domingo, these former foster youth are seeking a decent, safe and affordable home as they work or attend higher education classes. We are a consistent contact as they take on additional responsibilities and develop a transition plan.”
Domingo said he hopes to transition to a larger apartment soon that will better accommodate his family. In addition to helping him secure housing and evaluate education and job opportunities, he said that Hale Kipa provided important assistance with life skills like organizing important documents.
“I always felt like Hale Kipa would have my back,” he said. “Even when others didn’t listen, and I didn’t trust anyone.”
Domingo will be among the former foster youth and current foster care participants sharing his story at the 11th-annual Ohana is Forever conference in Kaneohe on July 21.
Hale Kipa CEO Punky Pletan-Cross discusses the importance of transitional assistance programs for former foster youth in his new Transitions column here.
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