Foster care was a pretty good experience for me. I came into care when I was 15, and was placed with a good foster mother, Blanca, right away. She helped me stay on track, and so did some of my foster care workers. My caseworker Candice Sparkman really motivated me: She was my agency mom.
I was lazy when I first came into care, and wasn’t doing my best in school for the first six months. After my first parent-teacher conference, which Candice attended along with my foster mom and me, Candice told me, “Get off your ass and get to it.”
I liked that a Black woman was so passionate to see me succeed, and I like that she was tough. Often the White people who help me baby me instead of pushing me. I like realness better than pity. It’s true that I’ve been through a lot, but I don’t want to use that as a crutch.
Then I started to grind, because I knew I would have to get out on my own one day. Blanca and Candice helped me understand the fundamentals of working and saving money. Before I met them, as soon as I had money I’d spend it on sneakers that cost $220, or clothes that were $300. I had never learned about saving from my biological family.
When I was in my last semester of high school, I told Candice, “I want to make a lot of money.”
She responded, “How, if you don’t stay focused?”
I said, “By using my hands.” I have painted people’s homes and driven a U-Haul truck and helped people move. And I’m currently working for a cab company driving elderly people and disabled youth to and from their doctor’s appointments.
Physical labor isn’t easy, but I love fixing and building things, and I like driving. I can drive for several hours without needing a break. In order to succeed, I choose to do these things that don’t feel like work.
I finished high school, which was tough for me due to reading difficulties. Instead of college, I entered a trade program in building maintenance and construction and got my OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) certification. The OSHA license allows me to work on construction sites and in warehouses. I also got my New York State Class E license, which lets me drive a cab or for a car service.
A Place to Live
When you reach age 17½ in care , the agency helps you apply for New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) apartments. Those are public housing apartments that set your rent at 30% of your income, no matter how low it is. They’re also known as “the projects.” New York has the greatest economic inequality of all 50 states, so while there are a lot of millionaires, there are also a lot of people who need public housing. The lines for NYCHA apartments are long, but foster youth aging out at age 21 get preference.
Even with that advantage, foster youth can be on the NYCHA waiting list for a long time. I was on the waiting list for almost five years. I turn 22 this month, and I’m just now getting my apartment.
I was so happy when I got the text from my workers that I got an apartment. My workers Monique, Selena, and Deidra were all happy for me too. They asked, “Are you ready?”
I told them that I’d been partly taking care of myself since I was 17. I lived with Blanca and got an allowance, but in that time, I worked, bought my own clothes, and paid my phone bill.
I also called my editor Virginia at Youth Communication to let her know I got housing. She played a part in my staying focused by helping me let stuff out through writing.
They Wouldn’t Let Me Look at the Apartment
I was given an appointment date to go view the apartment in the Throgs Neck project in the Bronx, which is the borough I’d been living in. I was glad that it’s only a 15-minute drive from Blanca’s, 30 minutes by public transportation.
I was nervous heading to see the apartment. Coming out of foster care, you only get to see two NYCHA apartments. If I didn’t like this one, I would have to take the next one, so it was really important for me to see it.
I pulled up in front of a lot of tall brick buildings. I was surprised and glad that the area was clean. I saw teenagers outside play-fighting, nothing too rough.
I went to the manager’s office, excited to see the apartment. But the manager said, “Due to Covid, I would prefer not to show the apartment in person.”
What? “How would I agree to something I can’t see?” I asked, frustrated.
“I took a video of the apartment,” he said and then promised that everything was in good condition. I didn’t like it, but my agency and ACS said they had a right to do that. He promised he’d fix anything I saw that I didn’t like.
I watched the video and everything looked good. I gave him all the documents needed: my 1099 tax forms showing how much money I’d earned in 2020, my birth certificate, and social security card.
He told me the deposit price and my monthly rent amount. He calculated the rent right there based on my 1099 forms.
Three weeks later, my agency paid for the first month’s rent and deposit, out of the discharge grant of $1,800 that ACS gives all youth aging out. There’s a second furniture grant of $1,000 that can be spent on things like a TV, cleaning products, as well as food or any other practical needs.
Setting Up My Home
Two weeks later, I got the keys and went into my apartment for the first time. I saw that the wall in the kitchen was cracked and buckling and the paint was peeling (see picture).
I emailed the manager but he did not respond. So I went into the offices and he told me it would be at least a month till they come out to fix it. It would have been much better to have the walls fixed before I moved in, and I don’t see why he couldn’t have just opened the windows and let me go in alone in a mask to look at the place I would be living in.
Still, I didn’t let this setback stop me from setting up my home. I got everything I needed for the apartment using the two ACS grants and help from Hearts to Homes, a nonprofit organization that helps people get furniture and household items for free. My agency, JCCA, is one of their partners, and they got me a set of pots, a mop, pillow and other bedding. I ordered a black platform bed from Raymour & Flanigan.
I can’t wait to decorate my new home. I got a navy blue loveseat and a black platform bed. I’m going to paint the living room/bedroom red. And everything else is going to stay white. There are two rules in my house: clean up after yourself and no shoes.
I have $80 left from the ACS checks. I applied for food stamps and cash assistance. I was denied cash assistance because I earn too much as a cab driver to qualify.
I’m happy to have my own space, but I’m also looking forward to moving out of the projects. I hope to earn enough by driving a cab and/or working a 9-5 job in my trade to move within two years.
I’m starting to move in now. The building manager said they’d fix the wall, but they haven’t yet. I’ll keep pushing.