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A home for the holidays

Posted: November 24th, 2017 | Community, Features, News, Top Stories | No Comments

By Joyell Nevins

Horizon House takes young adults transitioning out of foster care

La Mesa welcomes its neighbors and offers a source of hope in the newly christened Horizon House. The home for young adult women is a joint effort between the Solana Beach Presbyterian Church Foster Youth Ministry and Just in Time (JIT), a nonprofit committed to helping transition-age foster youth achieve self-sufficiency and well-being.

According to the California Senate Office of Research, foster youth make up 46 percent of California’s homeless population. The Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System found in the fiscal year 2014 that nationwide, out of 251,764 children placed into foster care, 23,439 aged out (meaning that at 18 they are no longer a ward of the state and are on their own). Out of those who aged out, 1 in 5 will become homeless, 1 in 4 will experience post-traumatic stress disorder, and less than 3 percent will earn a college degree.

(l to r) Alexis Harris, Hanna Shepler and Sonya Alexander are three of the women living in the Horizon House, a new home in La Mesa that helps young adults transitioning out of foster care achieve success. (Courtesy Just In Time)

Groups like Just in Time are working to change to those statistics. One of the ways JIT achieves that is by helping youth get set up in stable and sustainable housing. The “sustainable” part is where Bill and Gretchen Morgan, volunteers in the Solana Beach ministry, saw a way to meet a need. Over the last decade, they have been steadily more dismayed by the financial side of the housing market in San Diego, specifically in regards to the youth they were working with.

“Rents have gone up 50 percent in some areas,” Gretchen said.

How was someone just starting out supposed to be able to save, handle other bills, and still keep up with the rent? So, the Morgans began looking for a home that they could purchase and determine the rent on. They needed it to be accessible to public transportation and within walking distance of other amenities, housed within a neighborly community, and big enough to hold several young adults at one time.

“There are a lot of different neighborhoods in San Diego, but La Mesa checks all the boxes,” Bill explained.

They found a four-bedroom, four-bath home just a few blocks from a trolley stop, and just a few stops away from JIT headquarters. The 3,200-square-foot house had a side porch, back deck, and a driveway. And the Morgans love the La Mesa community.

“We met with many of the neighbors, and everyone expressed pleasure about the young ladies being there,” Bill said. “It’s a really neat area.”

The young women, who range in age from 19 to 27, are pleased to be there as well.

“It’s awesome when I wake up — the quality of everything,” resident Alexis Harris said. “It’s comforting. This is the nicest house I’ve ever lived in.”

(l to r) Alexis Harris, Hanna Shepler, Felicia Reyes, Gretchen Morgan, Cindy Tong, Sonya Alexander and Bill Morgan (Courtesy Just In Time)

Harris and her roommates have come out of a tumultuous past, some entering the foster system in their mid-teens, some as early as 5 years old, all aging out. When a foster youth turns 18, they may have had a transitional planning conference with their social worker ahead of time, and are given an “emancipation packet” of information, and sometimes are set up with a physical space to live — but then are left to fend for themselves.

“Many of these foster youth are dealing with trauma, they’ve had no consistency, no role models, and no job skills,” said Felicia Reyes, a former foster youth herself, who is now a graduate of USC and the Horizon House director. (Fun fact: JIT tracked Reyes down through a People Magazine article about foster youth who graduated from college.) “How are they supposed to succeed with no support?”

So support is an important aspect of the house. Not only do the women have each other, they each have a life coach or career mentor provided through JIT, they participate in a financial fitness program, and they are each attending college or career training. Their aspirations include fashion, nursing, social work, and cosmetology.

Each of the young ladies were personally invited by Reyes and the JIT staff to live in the house. They had to go through an application and interview process, and are able to live there for two years.

“We were looking for women who were already on a path of responsibility; they just needed one more boost,” Reyes said.

But it’s not just about responsibility and growing up. Sometimes, it’s just about enjoying where you live, too.

“We have laughter — too much laughter!” Reyes said with a smile.

For more information on services or to volunteer with Just In Time, visit jitfosteryouth.org or call 760-505-6647.

— Freelance writer Joyell Nevins can be reached at joyellc@gmail.com. You can also follow her blog Small World, Big God at swbgblog.wordpress.com.

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