Former foster youth celebrate new program they helped create

There was a small celebration in the Oakland Hills Saturday for a program expected to make a big impact.

The program is aimed at helping foster youth in Alameda County who are turning 21 and aging out of the system.

It can be a pressure-filled situation because many end up losing vital resources to help them transition to independence.

The popping of champagne helped kicked off the celebratory BBQ picnic at Oakland’s Joaquin Miller Park.

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In attendance, a group of former foster youth, and supporters, who helped design a Guaranteed Basic Income Program specifically to help Alameda County foster youth that are turning 21.

Xochtil Larios went through the foster system and knows the pain of losing financial and emotional support.

"When I turned 21, I no longer qualified for the $450 a month," said Larios. "I no longer qualified for my rent to be paid for.  I no longer qualified for my therapy to be covered." 

Larios is part of the 12-person program design team called the Net Growth Movement. The $2.8 million dollar two-year pilot program they created and lobbied for was passed by the Alameda County Board of Supervisors in June.

It will guarantee $1000 of income to 90 foster youth turning 21 to be spent however they need.

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It’s a resource Paul Smith says would have helped him.

"It would have been more time that I could invest in myself, more time that I could worry about getting my health together, self-care, getting supplies for school, getting supplies for employment," said Smith.

The program will also offer financial coaching and other resources. All the features were designed by former foster youth.

"So, the design team looked at really all the challenges facing youth as they transition out of foster care and the statistics of how many of them end up in homelessness, incarceration or really struggling, " said Casey Farmer, Project Director for the Design Team. "So they really wanted to support the youth right when they reach the service cliff."

Many former foster youth say the system tends to dehumanize them and treat them as numbers, and many fall into homeless or the criminal just system.

They say the guaranteed basic income program aims to prevent that.

"It’s just like invest back into the community. Invest back into their lives," said Larios.

Alameda County Supervisor Dave Brown helped initiate the program that will begin in January.

The money will come from Alameda County’s Social Services budget.