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Housing First

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For Foster Youth, Homes to Grow Into
Businessmen House Youth 'Aging Out' of System

Listen Listen to Ina Jaffe's report.

Steve Rodriguez
Steve Rodriguez, a Rising Tide participant
Photo: Ina Jaffe, NPR News
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Listen Listen to an extended interview with Steve Rodriguez.

Zigmond Berridge and Jamal Wright Left to right: Zigmond Berridge, on-site coordinator/counselor for the Orange Tree apartment complex, and Jamal Wright, on-site co-ordinator/counselor for Flanders Pointe apartment complex, both in Orange County.
Photo: Ina Jaffe, NPR News

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Gene Howard, executive director Gene Howard, executive director, in his office at Orangewood Childrens Foundation.
Photo: Ina Jaffe, NPR News

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"You really can't be successful in school unless you have as stable housing situation . . . It's pretty difficult to maintain a job, and you certainly can't form the kind of long lasting permanent relationships that will help you through the tough times if you are constantly moving from one place to another."

Gene Howard, head of the Orangewood Children's foundation, a partner in the Rising Tide program.

Dick Gochnauer
Dick Gochnauer
Photo: Ina Jaffe, NPR News
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Listen Listen to an extended interview with Dick Gochnauer.

July 23, 2002 -- What place matters more than home? For millions of Americans with special needs -- the disabled, the mentally ill, ex-offenders, youth leaving foster care -- a home is a vital first step toward a stable life.

That need for
Housing First inspired an NPR News special reporting project, on-air and online. The Housing First will run through Summer 2003; The project's first five radio reports will air Tuesdays on All Things Considered through August 13.

Today, NPR's Ina Jaffe profiles a faith-based initiative -- part program, part business -- that provides housing for youth who have aged out of foster care.

Dick Gochnauer and Gene Howard have changed Steve Rodriguez's life. When Steve "aged out" of foster care at age 18, he was free. But as NPR's Jaffe reports, that means he was "free of Orange County's foster care system, free to find a place to live, free to find a job, and free to find his own way in the world with hardly a dime to his name or a family to fall back on."

Steve ended up on the streets, like many teens in his situation. But recently, he found a home to return to, thanks to Rising Tide. A new program that's equal parts business plan and social service, Rising Tide provides apartments for former foster youth.

The strategy is sound financially as well as socially, says Dick Gochnauer, vice chairman of a company supplying goods to McDonald's restaurants and one of the founders of the program. The program's backers, all successful businessmen who attend church together at Mariners Church in Irvine, Calif., buy a large apartment complex, making all the apartments affordable for low-income people. By setting aside only 10 of the apartments for nine pairs of former foster youth and one counselor, the members of Rising Tide managed to innovate what Gochnauer calls "social venture capital" or "social entrepreneurship." It's an idea that's growing in popularity in philanthropic circles.

Rising Tide has established two communities so far, and thinks as many as eight would be needed in Orange County, given the number of foster youth who leave the system annually.

The Rising Tide model creates stability not only for the former foster youth, but also for the local Orangewood Children's foundation, a Rising Tide partner. The rents from the apartments provide a steady stream of money to pay for the services Orangewood provides.

Over time, as the debt on the buildings goes down and the rents rise with inflation, the project should create an endowment for Orangewood. It is this business mindset that protects the program from "the vicious fundraising cycle that plagues so many charities," says Orangewood Children's foundation's executive director, Gene Howard.

Howard is convinced that low-income housing does not need to be "tenement housing" -- "This is a place that anyone, I think, would feel comfortable living," he says.

And that's how Steve feels: "I'm really lucky to be in this program," he says, "and get the chance to show people I know that if I got a permanent place to stay I would go to work."

Other Resources

• Contact information on the Rising Tide Transitional Housing Program at the Mariners Church Web site.

• The Orangewood Children's foundation is a partner in the Rising Tide program.

Campus of Mariners Church
The Campus of Mariners Church in Irvine, Calif.
Photo: Ina Jaffe, NPR News

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The Foster Care Independence Act of 1999 signed into law by President Clinton.

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