May 2014 Newsletter
Verenice Lopez, citywide TAY advisory board member, TAYSF
Verenice Talks About Aging Out of Foster Care in SF without Documents
Verenice: I went to foster care system when I was 17. They placed me in a foster home in the Bayview district with an African-American family. The foster home had only two rooms and a basement where our foster mom’s son stayed, but we never saw him. I had four roommates there, most were younger than me, but all of us were foster youth. Nikia, also on CTAB, was my first roommate.
We had just one foster mom, who was really old, like 80, who couldn’t take care of us. She was really overweight. She would stay home and watch TV, which was my only bad experience there. Our foster mom couldn’t move, so she wouldn’t cook, and only order pizza and Chinese to eat, nothing healthy. At some point I told her, can I go to store and buy stuff, but that didn’t work too well.
But the good thing was that our foster mom was really nice. She placed pictures of prior foster kids from the last ten or twenty years in the home. She wanted me to be near her in the living room to keep her company. Those of us at the home had an allowance of $60, sometimes our foster mom would give us 100 a month out of her own pocket. She wasn’t into my business, though, I had a lot of freedom. My foster mom would let me stay in my sister’s Pacifica apartment. We weren’t allowed to have friends over, but my sister could visit.
What was it like to emancipate from your foster home?
Verenice: I emancipated on my nineteenth birthday. After I emancipated, my foster mom said whenever you want to come visit me, you can.
My first semester at City College, I went into transitional housing through Larkin Street Youth Services, and my sister became my legal guardian. I graduated from CCSF, left transitional housing and transferred to SF State, where I will major in political science.
I started going to Indepdent Living Skills Program, where my social worker introduced me to case worker, who signed me up for section 8, transitional housing at Larkin.
After that, it took 3 years to find a unit or studio. Rent in 2012 was already expensive, living on scholarship and financial aid, and I didn’t use voucher because I moved to Oakland, for awhile. I then came back and was renting rooms in ParkMerced in S.F.
Because I had been in the system, I wanted a job where I could give back, and case management was one way. I saw a post on Craigslist for Compass Family Services at Market Street Resource Center that said this is best way to give back, and now I work at Compass Point Services as a case manager working with homeless families.
I can be there for the other young people, to help someone, to know that I know how it feels to be homeless or illegal or not be able to get job because they dont’ have documents. I had experience. I know that they are struggling, just helping out to find a shelters and be in a stable home.
I work mostly with the Latino community. I am one of three Spanish speaking managers so a lot of my case load is Latino. I wanted to go back to my community.
After I graduate, I want to apply for a Master’s of Social Work, but am going to wait until next year, because social work schools want you to be working at a position for two years before school.
How did you end up in this specific foster home?
Verenice: Placement in foster care depends on availability, on what foster care parents say, whether ‘this is the kind of youth I want to take care of.’Some foster parents only take care of babies, or only take in boys or only girls.
For me, I before I went into foster care, I stayed in group home at Huckleberry for three days, and then went to another shelter at General Hospital.Secret shelter at General Hospital, a couple rooms, toddler cribs and etc., there in the morning to make calls. I started at City College during that time.
They told me that a foster mom who wants you, she lives in an African-American family and culture, and asked if I will be okay with it. And since I wanted to be out of group home, I told them I will take it.
Where did you grow up?
Verenice: I was born in Mexcali, Mexico, but I migrated here when I was twelve years-old. My sister was born in SF, but our family moved back to Mexico, then came back to San Francisco to go school. My sister and I stayed here on tourist VISA.
One time during Christmas, they didn’t let me or my mom back into the country. I took my sister’s documents, and crossed the border as my sister.
In middle school, all my classes where in Spanish. But when I went to Abe Lincoln high school for four years, I had to start speaking English. Most of my friends spoke Spanish, had ESL classes. One time they made fun on my English, laughed at me, and I said I’m not going to practice English because people laugh at it.
But at City College, when I had to work more and more in English, and was older now, I was still struggling with English. I had to stay four years, instead of two. Funny though, in the three latest and more difficult English classes, I got A’s!
How did you get placed into foster care initially?
Verenice: I ran away from my dad’s home live in Bayview district. He was alcoholic and drug addict, and my sister ran away after high school. I stayed with him for a year after, but he didn’t take care of me. He was just doing drugs, going into his bedroom to and do drugs and prostitutes.
I would always sneak out every night go to park and smoke weed and drink alcohol, when I was 15, I ran away to Huckleberry, but my dad didn’t want to leave custody of me, and so he said things would be different, which they weren’t different. I dont’ have documents, and I didn’t want to go Mexico, I told them my whole story. At first, they said I’m a teenager who didn’t want to be told what to do, etc., but the second time, they believed me.
How did you get your documents through foster care system?
Verenice: I didn’t know the difference until a lawyer explained to me that you are available to get this kind of green card, specific to foster youth. She told me only 16, wanted to come here and study, told her I wasn’t sure, because once you enter illegally, they don’t often allow you to get financial aid.
What would you recommend to make the foster care system better?
Verenice: For me, they don’t really enforce rules that foster parents have to follow. Whatever you gonna get, they need to coordinate better. Foster care students say their parents would neglect them, or not have that much freedom, mostly I heard it was really bad. My experience was totally different, but a lot of youth and children change foster homes a lot of the time. I only had one. They should look more into foster parents and if house are really good choices for the kids.
But mostly the nutrition. Most homes have just junk food that you deal with.