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I-TEAM: How foster care can create more faces of homelessness

Published: Dec. 16, 2021 at 7:08 PM EST
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - It’s an image almost no parent can imagine for our own children – especially right here at the holidays.

A homeless child plays outside behind an Augusta thrift store.

The I-TEAM found her mother is told find shelter or risk losing her daughter.

This is yet another face of poverty in Augusta.

For weeks, the I-TEAM continues to show you the explosion of homeless men, women and children across Augusta; we found the homeless population has tripled in a matter of months, skyrocketing 150 percent just since this spring.

We’ve gone along with crisis teams to figure out what’s behind this surge and in our series of reports we’ve uncovered it’s not just addiction, mental health, and lack of affordable housing but also foster care itself also plays a role.

It’s a double-edged sword: Find housing for this child who desperately needs it or take her from her mother who is trying to provide but can’t. We found once a child ends up in foster care, they are even more likely to be homeless as adults, creating a vicious cycle.

Every story is as different as every, face but many of the people we meet on the streets of Augusta  share a similar chapter in life.

Belinda: “I don’t really know why I was in foster care.”

Cherry: “I was never adopted by my foster mom. She just kept foster kids.”

Eugene: “Foster care system from ages 12 to 21 … some of us are barely making it.”

Ahmad: “I got to get a little furniture but hey, I’m just grateful for what I have.”

Ahmad Roberts has struggled his way through closed doors since the age of 13.

“Around Mother’s Day 2011 I was at a friend’s house, and I went back home she was lying in front of the door, so I called 911.”

The loss of his mother led to more loss.

“It’s crazy because every year I moved. I went to four different high schools from 9th-12th...every year I moved. I went to two different group homes an IL program, independent living program, and that’s when I aged out.”

He stepped out of foster care and into adulthood on his 20th birthday.

Reporter Liz Owens:  “Up until then, what kind of services were you getting?”

Ahmad: “I was food stipends, phone stipends, I was getting with therapists they come talk to us they were paying for my school, they were paying for an apartment. "

Pam Parrish founded connections homes after seeing a need among her own children; six of which came from the foster care system as either preteens or teenagers.

“The problem after that is they can’t because they’re not equipped and don’t have the family systems that you and I have to turn back to help.” Says Parrish. “I have kids in the age range and you know you help out when the tire goes flat and they don’t have the budget to get it fixed but they still need to get to work and for these kids even if they got transportation one flat tire can cause them to lose their job because they do not have the emergency resources or anyone to call to help fix it.”

Ahmad says he couldn’t get an apartment.

“I had two evictions and I didn’t have too many resources.”

He says he considered moving into a motel.

“It could be any one of us if we were put in the same situation if we didn’t have the support system around us.” Explains Parrish.

The I-TEAM found a child’s odds of any sort of success plunge as soon as a child enters foster care.

“Ninety seven percent - and that’s not a misquote - of youth who age out without stable support systems around them will end of in chronic poverty.” Says Parrish. “They never go on to school less than three percent every get any sort of education that allows them to earn a living wage.”

The I-TEAM analyzed four different scholarly studies on foster care and found up to 80 percent of foster children will develop some form of mental illness. Half of all girls will become pregnant by the age of nineteen. 90 percent of youth with five or more placements in foster care will enter the criminal justice system. Between 31 percent and 46 percent of former foster children will become homeless at least once by the age of twenty-six.

Pam Parrish explains the issue is in the approach on how to solve the crisis, by using a band aid rather than addressing the root cause.

“We are standing along a river...if I can use an analogy and we are pulling people out of homelessness and we are pulling people out of trafficking and we are pulling people out of poverty and we are trying to do this work and we aren’t really stopping to look down river to see what’s putting them in the river to begin with foster care is a big thing putting is a big thing putting them there.”

As city leaders work to identify the reasons behind the recent surge in our homeless population Parrish says it’s the state of Georgia continues to feed the pipeline.

“We are going to see a surge in homelessness and your antidotal exercise of being out on the streets is proof that that is actually what happening.”

Data obtained by the I-TEAM from the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services – or DFACS shows 1113 local children in foster care this year. Nearly half, or 46 percent, in the care of a stranger outside of their home county.

In Richmond County alone, the I-TEAM found 208 children entered foster care during the height of the pandemic, April 2020 through this March.

The most common reasons for removal: parental drug and alcohol abuse, neglect, physical abuse, and inadequate housing.

Bottom line: our children are entering into foster care because of homelessness which in turns increases their chances of becoming homeless as adults.

The mother of the little girl we found living in the back of a thrift store is warned by a marshal - she is at risk of losing her daughter if she does not find a legal shelter for the little girl.

“It is something we should be solving as a community as a state we should be solving this issue because these are Georgia’s kids. But the state of Georgia doesn’t let you come back at Thanksgiving or come back and do a load of laundry after you are 21.”

Ahmad finally found his own place to call home with the help of a local non-profit.

“I love it it’s like my own little comfort zone, my safe space.”

A safe place, something so many of these faces have yet to find.

Want to help?

Connections Homes will be expanding throughout the state of Georgia next year. They are accepting applicants now. WRDW is working with the non-profit Grant Me Hope this year. The non-profit works to place older foster children in homes.

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