The youth-written stories in Represent give inspiration and information to teens in foster care while offering staff insight into those teens’ struggles.

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Supportive Housing
On my own but not alone
Lavell Pride

When I was 19, I realized that I would be living on my own soon. Just before I turned 20, I went to work with my social worker on my housing papers so when I did age out I would have a place to move.

I had been diagnosed with depression and suicidal thoughts and had nobody to go live with. So my two options were public housing through New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), which is for all low-income people in the city, or supportive housing, for people with mental illnesses or those who still need a little help with their independent living. One supportive housing system is New York/NewYork III, which is for people who are chronically homeless, people with mental illnesses, people with HIV/AIDS, and young adults up to 26 years old who are leaving or recently left foster care or who were in foster care for more than a year after their 16th birthday.

When I aged out, I got a $645 grant from my foster care agency. (The amount of this discharge grant varies by need, and can be as much as $750.) It doesn’t matter if you’re moving into a NYCHA apartment or NY/NY III housing or anywhere else; the grant is to help with rent and security deposit.

I chose supportive housing because you receive help from staff there, and the more help I was getting the better. The support staff includes a case manager, social worker, and a job developer. I’m used to living in foster care and having someone else take care of me, so I wanted support as I settled into my new apartment. I found out that I can stay in New York/New York III housing until I turn 26.

My Own Place

I first went to look at my apartment in April 2011. My foster mom and my best friend Jamal went with me to see it. When I saw the apartment I got excited to have my own place. The bedroom and living room are in the same space, but it didn’t matter. I was happy that it would be all mine.

I think I made the right choice for myself. Other people might prefer NYCHA because there are fewer rules than in supportive housing. In NYCHA apartments, you can have pets and roommates, plus it’s a full apartment. NYCHA housing doesn’t come furnished because NYCHA expects that you can afford your own furniture.

In supportive housing, there are no pets allowed, and you can’t have family or friends move in without consulting the housing coordinator and housing director. But there is furniture. My studio apartment came with a twin bed, two dressers, and a couch big enough for three people to sit on, plus a welcome kit with things like sheets and pots and pans.

I used my grant money to pay the first month’s rent and security deposit, and I moved in December 2011. My foster mom and Jamal helped me move.

When I first moved in, I thought, “Everyone in this building has a mental illness.” I was worried it would feel like an institution. I did want staff and case managers there to help guide me, but I didn’t want to feel that they were judging the tenants as crazy. After the first three months I started to see that the tenants were all different but also the same as me, shy and nervous. About half the people in my building are LGBTQ people, which is nice for me because I’m bisexual.


image by YC-Art Dept

In my supportive housing, there are two different kinds of residents, who pay different rents. “Community residents” have to pay their full rent, while “HPD residents” (HPD stands for the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development) only pay 30% of their income. I’m an HPD resident. After you’ve lived there for a year, you’re allowed to move to another supportive housing apartment in any borough if you want to.

Now it’s been a year since I moved in to my apartment. In that year I’ve learned how to budget for rent, utility bills, food, and other needs. My case manager and my social worker help me with all this. The job developer works on finding a job that I’ll be happy with.

It’s not all smooth living there. I’ve had a few fights with other residents. When I first got there, I gave people food and money, but then I began to think I was being taken advantage of. So I stopped giving things to my neighbors, and that’s when the fights began. My neighbors often run out of money because they spend too much on weed.

No Jobs

In February 2012 I was terminated from a job I loved, at a movie theater. Since I’m an HPD resident, I keep the same rent, and public assistance will pay the portion that equaled 30% of my salary until I get another job. But I’m not sure when that will be. In the meantime, I’m applying for Social Security Supplemental Security Income (SSI) for my depression and other disorders. If I get that, it will be $750 a month. If I get a job, that amount goes down to around $300-$400 a month. (See this story for more on getting SSI.)

It’s been almost a year of job-hunting, and lately it’s been hard and very emotionally trying to find something. In addition to taking care of myself, I’m also caring for a sick relative in the hospital. But I’m managing to take care of things with some support from my foster mom and close friends. I have run out of money several times, and twice my foster mom has wired me small amounts of money, but I don’t want to keep asking her. My friends have helped, too.

Living on my own and managing my bills and food and meds is a drag. I’d rather be a teenager and not have adult responsibilities. I am dealing with it, though—I’ve been searching for jobs at movie theaters, retail stores, even Madison Square Garden. I’ve looked for work as a security guard, and at day care centers. But everyone says “We’re not hiring now”; “We’ll call you if we need you”; “I’ll give you a call.” Nobody ever calls, but I keep trying.

I want to go back and study for my GED exam, but I haven’t found a pre-GED program I like. My case manager is helping me look for another program because I know a GED is what I need to go to college and move forward with my life.

I hope that I move before I turn 26 because I’m living now in the Bronx, very far from all my friends and family in Brooklyn, where I’m from. (There’s nothing available from NY/NY III in Brooklyn except housing for people with HIV right now.) But it could be a lot worse. I have a supportive place to live until I’m 26, and after that, the case manager and the building director will help me find a place to live. It’s nice to know I won’t be living in the street or hopping from one place to another.

Go to for a round-up of housing resources.

This story is part of the financial literacy series, which is generously supported by NYSE Euronext Foundation.

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