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New program allows those who age out of foster care to bypass housing voucher waitlist

Downtown Cedar Rapids in an aerial photograph in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, May 14, 2014. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Downtown Cedar Rapids in an aerial photograph in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, May 14, 2014. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — A new federal initiative will earmark housing vouchers for those aging out of foster care, who are at “extreme risk” of becoming homeless.

“Aging out of foster care should not be a path to enter homelessness,” said Jason Mohr, regional administrator for U.S. Housing and Urban Development Region VII, which includes Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska.

Federal officials were on hand with city officials at Cedar Rapids City Hall on Friday to launch the program called Foster Youth to Independence Initiative, which will include up to 18,000 vouchers nationally, 127 regionally and 25 in the Cedar Rapids area. The program is intended for those 25 or younger who are in or recently left the foster care system without a home to go to.

No new money is going into the program, Mohr said.

Nationally, each year 20,000 young people age out of foster care, and about one-quarter of them experience homelessness within four years, Mohr said. In Cedar Rapids, three people a month age out of foster care, and 60 percent don’t have a support system, City Council member Scott Olson said.

Public housing agencies, public child welfare agencies, and continuum of cares, several of whom had representatives during the announcement Friday, must work together to determine the best intervention for each young person, Olson said, adding each plays a critical role identifying at risk youth.

“Through your collaboration, providing a stable home for these youth will lead to many more opportunities in their lives,” Olson said.

Recipients, who will be referred to the program by a social services agency, can use the voucher in private housing in Linn or Benton counties, said Sara Buck, Cedar Rapids Housing Services manager.

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The vouchers are good for three years, after which the recipient would roll into the traditional voucher program, she said.

Overall, Cedar Rapids has 1,265 general housing vouchers and 12 Veterans Affairs supportive housing vouchers, in addition to the new program.

“We have such a long waiting list,” Buck said. “This is similar to vouchers for veterans. It allows them to completely bypass the waiting list.”

Comments: (319) 398-8310; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

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