Vicki, a petite 18-year-old with bleached-blond hair and wide brown eyes, was desperate when she met Anthony Jackson (Bus’05). After aging out of the foster care system, she was living in Denver — and was homeless. For months she slept on whatever couch she could find. Although she dreamed of getting a job and going to college, she was more concerned with finding a home.
Anthony works for the Mile High United Way’s Bridging the Gap program and administers Section 8 Family Unification Program housing vouchers. These 18-month vouchers help former foster youth who lack adequate housing become independent.
“Forty percent of foster youth experience homelessness in their lifetime,” Anthony says, blaming this alarming statistic on the instability of foster care, an imperfect system that bounces youth between placements. “To move 20 times, you don’t have a home. There’s nothing stable about that.”
He spends countless hours helping foster youth avoid homelessness at all costs, mediating between angry landlords, exhausted caseworkers and frustrated youth. Anthony manages youth enrollment in the program, the ever-growing wait list and housing inspections. His least favorite aspect is paperwork, averaging around 250 pages per youth. He spends his remaining time tackling crises. Each morning his voice mail is filled with emergencies ranging from landlords who need their rent money to youth facing eviction.
“CU helped me figure out who I was and how to succeed at a role like this,” Anthony says.
All his hard work is worth it when he sees a youth get his or her first set of apartment keys.
“The excitement they have when they sign their lease and move into their apartment is what makes this job so easy for me,” Anthony says. “They now know they have a place to call home and no longer have to deal with couch surfing and possibly being kicked out of their place.”
Family Unification vouchers provide hope and a safety net for youth like Vicki.
“It adds a great deal of stability to their lives. At least for 18 months they can call that their home,” Anthony says.
In the meanwhile, Vicki is working hard to reach her goals. Six months after receiving her voucher, she is in a better place: living in her own apartment, attending school and finally finding permanency.
Stories like Vicki’s are common in Anthony’s world, which lead him to say, “I’ve never had greater job satisfaction.”