Local News

Monday, Feb 18 2013 08:00 PM

New housing plans to help former foster youth succeed

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Randy Coats is the executive director of Golden Empire Affordable Housing, Inc. He is standing in front of the brand new Residence at West Columbus housing complex.

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Ashley Fuhrmann, left, and Precious Murphy both work at Covenant Coffee Shop on North Chester Avenue.

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BY LAURA LIERA Californian staff writer lliera@bakersfield.com

Some teenagers celebrate an over-the-top eighteenth birthday party with friends and family.

But some teens are left standing on a sidewalk, wondering where they will find shelter to sleep as night falls. When the clock strikes midnight and foster teens turn 18, they might wonder how they will survive.

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The Residences at West Columbus

Rent: For former foster youth, only 30 percent of their income goes toward rent.

Rent for the one-bedroom units will be $297; two-bedroom units will be $350 to $611; three-bedroom units will be $404 to $706.

Timeline: Construction is expected to be finished by March 18. Families and youth will move in by the first two weeks of April.

Contact: Randy Coats at 633-1533 or visit Golden Empire Affordable Housing Inc. at 601 24th St., Suite B.

Now there is a new option.

The Residences at West Columbus, a project very dear to the heart of Randy Coats, 67, is expected to open in April.

After six years of planning and budgeting, Coats turned the $12 million project into a reality to benefit foster youth and low-income families in Kern County. Coats, executive director of Golden Empire Affordable Housing Inc., formed a partnership with Columbus Haven Limited to apply for grants with other social groups to make a home for two segments of the population needing a place to stay.

"These kids don't have a job or have a way to support themselves on their own means," Coats said of the former foster kids who can apply to live in the new apartments. He's seen the need as a member of the Kern County Mental Health Department's advisory board.

According to the Kern County Department of Human Services, there are more than 3,000 foster children in Kern County and California ranks among the highest in the nation with approximately 100,000 foster children.Having lived in 11 foster homes since age 7, Precious Murphy, 21, knows the importance of having a place for teens to go after age 18.

"When I turned 18, I went to school with a backpack and when I got out of school, I didn't know where I was going to go," she said. "A lot of the youth like me go through the same situation, but if they have a place like West Columbus, they won't have to go couch surfing when they leave thier foster home."

The housing development at 500 West Columbus Street will have 20 one-bedroom units to accommodate former foster youth applicants and 56 one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments for low-income families earning less than 50 percent of area median income.

All units will be furnished and include amenities of a quality new home such as tile countertops, carpeting, blinds, Energy Star appliances, high-efficiency heating and air conditioning and high-speed Internet connections.

The development will also have a clubhouse/community building with on-site office, computer lab, community room and a children's playground.

Former foster youth can live there from the ages of 18 to 25. After that, they must move out.

"If they truly take advantage of all the assistance and help they will receive once they are living there, they can excel and maybe move out within two years, leaving room for another candidate to come in," Coats said.

As part of a way to integrate the youth into society, the housing development will offer classes on basic job skills.

One local employer, Randy Martin, 45, CEO of Covenant Coffee, makes it his mission to break the cycle of abuse and neglect that many foster youth have experienced. He employs and trains former foster youth in Kern County.

"Employment is the best way to help out a young person get on their feet," Martin said. "They learn communication skills, values, punctuality and work experience."

Covenant Coffee works closely with Coats and his team to help get teens on a positive track.

Murphy, who started working for Covenant Coffee last year when it opened, is now also going to be the on-site manager of the youth at West Columbus.

"I will be on site whenever they need help, have questions or problems," Murphy said. "And I will also be organizing the different activities we will be having in order to help them succeed in life."

Allowing former foster youth to feel in control of their lives is not only gained through employment, but also through interaction with other community members. Having housing for former foster youth and low-income families together is something Coats envisioned.

"We want them to share the community room, basketball courts and have meetings together," Coats said. "It's like having a very large extended family in the development where you feel like everything is 'ours,' not singled out."

The need to feel established is great. Murphy said she benefitted from a "positive push."

"If none of this help existed, I probably would have had more than one child, not gone back to school and would probably be working at McDonald's," Murphy said.

She is now attending Taft College and pursuing her hope to become a social worker.

"I didn't have very helpful social workers, so that is why I want to become one so that I can have my own group of youth to work with."

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