It All Starts With Housing

In 1998, when our founders Deanne Pearn and Amy Lemley were graduate students at the UC Berkeley Goldman School of Public Policy, they launched the First Place Fund to offer microgrants to help four young people aging out of foster care cover the move-in costs of their very first apartments. The fund aimed to address the tremendous barriers facing foster youth in an important rite of passage to adulthood – living independently.  

Back then, the average one-bedroom Oakland apartment rented for $725 per month, and the Alameda County minimum wage was just $5.75—meaning that working full time for four weeks, a young adult could earn a whopping $920/month before taxes, not nearly enough for rent, groceries, utilities, childcare, transportation and any other expenses. Today, the minimum wage has tripled, but the average one-bedroom rental costs 4.5x times as much – $3,297 – in Oakland.  

“California leads the nation in the variety and richness of supports for former foster youth ages 18-25, but its housing costs are so high that foster youth still face huge barriers to stable housing when they exit foster homes of their childhood,” said Thomas Lee, First Place for Youth CEO, citing the CalYOUTH 2021 survey findings that one in four foster youth surveyed said they had been homeless between the ages 18 and 23. “At First Place for Youth, our work supporting youth transitioning out of foster care has always started with housing.” 

With few family supports, scant credit, and lack of experience stretching their paychecks to pay rent from one month to the next, foster youth can struggle to come up with move-in costs and monthly rental payments. Not surprisingly, 43% of the foster youth entering our My First Place Program™ say they have been homeless.  

“I believe that home is what you make of it and it can be almost anywhere. First Place provided me a home right in the Bay Area, where the cost of living is so high, so that I can do what I need to succeed,” said Aaron, a My First Place participant. “I can work and go to school knowing that I have a safe space to call home.”  

Our My First Place program offers older foster youth a safe place to call home so they can take time to plan their futures, meet each week with their youth advocates, and plot the best employment and education pathways with their Employment & Education specialists. Our participants don’t pay rent to live in a My First Place apartment, but they do learn what it means to maintain their home. 

Golden Brooms and much more

Using a variety of indicators, including our Golden Broom inspection awards and household management metrics, our participants learn household management skills. They learn to budget; keep safe, stable homes; and maintain positive roommate relations—a key housing stability indicator. On average, our participants earn 94% on the metrics we use to measure their housing stability and with that knowledge, they learn how to secure and maintain stable housing upon exit.

What started with just four youth in one Bay Area city has now expanded to over 500 youth housed in California, and more than 600 nationwide each year. We know housing isn’t the only factor setting foster youth up for positive futures, but for the 11,000 plus foster youth who have built their futures in First Place-funded housing since we were founded, we have modeled programs in California and the rest of the country that have laid the foundation to serve thousands more young adults. With the help of our partners and supporters, we know that those lessons will help hundreds of thousands more who will age out of care in the years to come.  


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