Young woman living on the streets hope federal grant will help with housing

Kolbi Whitehead, 22, has been homeless for the past four years. (KXAN Photo)
Kolbi Whitehead, 22, has been homeless for the past four years. (KXAN Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A young Austin woman who was homeless for four years is hopeful a new grant aimed at ending youth homelessness will help her find a permanent roof over her head. The federal government defines “homeless youth” as anyone 18 to 24 years old.

On Friday, Austin leaders came together to discuss how they want to wisely use a $5.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Austin is one of 10 communities that will share $33 million under HUD’s Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program, created to end youth homelessness by 2020. The city says it will use funding to enhance collaboration by putting a variety of housing strategies into play, including, “rapid re-housing, permanent supportive housing, both with intensive case management and to consider innovative programs, such as host homes and an emergency shelter specifically for youth.”

Kolbi Whitehead, 22, is currently on a waiting list for housing. While some say life is about enjoying the simple pleasures, Whitehead is simply glad to know where she’s getting her next meal. It was four years ago the life she knew was stripped away.

“One day I get a call from CPS while I’m at work saying that my daughter is in child protective custody and that if I have a family member to come pick her up,” Whitehead said.

Whitehead says an incident with her roommate, who was responsible for watching her child while at work, ushered in CPS and an eviction notice from her apartment complex. Her daughter is now living with her mother in Kyle, but she can’t she says because, “CPS wouldn’t let me live with her.”

The next thing Whitehead knew, she says she was standing in front of the homeless shelter downtown.

“It was a scary environment. I had never seen anything like it before and they’re telling to walk up there and wait in that line,” Whitehead recalled, a moment she can’t shake as she recounts her thoughts while taking those steps toward a new reality.

“Scared. Um, alone,” Whitehead said, tears streaming down her face. “I wanted to go home. I wish I could be with family.”

That was the start of a journey she’s still trying to navigate.

“I ended up moving to the library and ever since then I’ve been staying kind of around there,” Whitehead said. “Every time I do accumulate something, it gets stolen. It’s just the environment of downtown. They wander. They will find something to steal.”

She explained that includes identification, which is needed in order to apply for jobs.

“It frustrates me because I’m really pushing for housing. I know once I get housing everything will fall back to place. Because I’ll be able to have peace and have more stability. And that’s a big thing to have a job, is stability.”

Whitehead says she has a job interview this coming week.

The HUD grant comes on the heels of Austin beating a 100-day challenge goal it set to get homeless youth off the streets. Nonprofits like LifeWorks, ECHO and Caritas decided they would work to get 50 homeless youth of the streets. They surpassed that goal by housing 53. That said, LifeWorks on Friday said at least 240 young people are still without a roof over their heads.

LifeWorks Executive Director Susan McDowell said, “Homeless youth face so many barriers to housing, and this opportunity will allow us to establish both a community system and the continuum of housing options that will ensure success for youth, regardless of their challenges.”

Austin will be expected to develop a coordinated community plan to submit to HUD within six months. A big issue within the discussion is the number of young people who are about to “age out” of the foster system.

ECHO wants to remind people that volunteers are still needed on Jan. 28 to help count the number of individuals experiencing homelessness in Austin. To register, click here. 

 

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