Nancy's Story

I'm a 68 year-old former foster kid. What I want to say is people need an advocate to help them navigate the system and a place, a loving place, where they can not only find out about the services they need, but feel part of things—part of the human family.

It's so easy to feel marginalized and to be left adrift out there on your own. There was a period of time when I was homeless and I felt emotionally estranged from the human race. And I know that came from being a foster child.

I became a foster child when I was 12. My brother and sister were 9 and 7. My mother and her brother were in an orphanage when they were growing up, and their mother and father had both lost a parent when they were growing up. I'm like a 3rd generation orphan and there's a lot of missing parenting. So coming from a family without a history of parenting, I needed help. I needed counseling as a foster kid and as a former foster kid. I graduated from CSU Hayward when I was 60, and while I was there, I learned about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and the need for deep counseling.

As a foster youth, it's like your family has died, but they didn't—you don't go to any funeral. No one helps you grieve the loss of your family, because they're not really gone. And now you're under the control of strangers and they put you in some stranger's home, and then another. Meanwhile you're trying to grow up, and when you look at the other kids around you at school, no one else is going through this, so you figure there must be something wrong with you.

Far more foster kids go homeless than graduate from college. Many become pregnant too early, and become homeless right away.

When you're on the street, there's a commonality, an equality that happens—like you all know there's no lower you can go, and a sort of healing takes place—like for the first time you're being seen by another human being. They served free meals at the Lutheran Church, and I always went to that. I didn't feel comfortable in the shelters. I stayed outdoors or sometimes I could stay at someone's house for a few weeks. Eventually I got on SSI and that helped. But I still needed counseling, not just money.

I got cancer in 2009 and ended up losing my place. That's when I learned about low-income housing for seniors. It's not easy finding housing. They give you a big catalogue and you have to research and put in a separate application for each one. I was in much better shape this time than other times I was homeless, but it's a lot to ask. We really need a place where someone can just come in and get taken care of. People who need housing, usually need more than one thing. You need a place where someone will talk to you and help you figure out how to succeed--a nonjudgmental ombudsmen.

Counseling for anyone on the street is so essential. So many people are trying to go it alone and it's hard. We don't have the support system that most people have, and everyone deserves that. It's not about being bad or broken, it's because we deserve the human connection. The things that happened to me when I was child, I'll be dealing with those my whole life. If you've been abused or neglected, it can be really intimidating to go ask for help.

You know what I tell people to help them understand? If there's anybody in your family that you love: grandparents, nephew, nieces—no matter how much money you have, no matter how much power you have, everyone, every human is equal to those people you love. There are certain basic needs and so many are doing without. Do you really want that for someone's loved one?

Nancy Delaney

Photo of Nancy Delaney.
Among Alameda County youth participating in the recent Homeless Youth Demonstration Project, 75% had previous county system dependency and two in three had mental health issues.   
Homeless and emancipated foster youth suffer disproportionately higher rates of unemployment, lower educational attainment, incarceration, dependence on public assistance, and substance abuse.