In the Face of Defeat, Former Foster Couple is Homeless, Not Hopeless

If only 22-year-olds Hannah Cain and Markis Grimes were born just a year later, their lives would be completely different.

But as former foster kids who “aged out” at 18, the Redding couple missed the magic window to fully qualify for AB12, known as the California Fostering Connections to Success Act that was enacted on Jan. 1, 2012.

The law gave foster youth the option to stay in the foster care system for another two years, and receive the full benefits of being in that system.

“It’s great that AB12 protects future foster kids, but it cut us off,” Cain said. “We fell through the cracks.”

Hannah Cain of Redding is homeless after aging out of the foster system.

It’s been four years since they each turned 18 and left the refuge of their respective foster homes to join the ranks of the homeless.

Grimes and Cain became a couple after they met at Shasta College and bonded over their shared circumstances. 

Since then have slept behind the Dollar Store, and in parks where they’ve dodged sprinklers and aggressive transients. They have spent countless nights at the Good News Rescue Mission. They’ve couch-surfed at friends’ homes. They have learned to navigate the world of being homeless, while trying not to look homeless.

Cain said there are few things are more humiliating than the stigma of being homeless.

“We’ve never been in trouble with the law, and we keep our noses clean,” Cain said. “But even though we are homeless through no fault of our own, people still look at us as if we are bad, almost as if we deserve to live this way.”

They learned that being homeless means carrying all their belongings in backpacks. Homelessness means finding someplace to go after the mission turns them out after breakfast for the day. Homelessness means relying upon places like the library and the downtown Redding Safeway for bathrooms, wireless connection and shelter from the elements.

Homelessness means getting hygiene items from the mission, and the opportunity to wash clothes there monthly, which means that because Cain owns just one bra, and Grimes owns just one pair of shorts, they do without those during laundry times.

Homelessness means that when they apply for a job, and list their address as 3100 South Market St., some employers may recognize it as the location of the Good News Rescue Mission and decide homeless employees are too great a hiring risk.

Periodically, Cain and Grimes have enjoyed glimmers of hope and potential success, but even those were fleeting. They were enrolled in Shasta College for a few semesters, where Cain is less than a year from achieving her Associated Arts degree.

For Cain and Grimes, being homeless magnified the the usual pressures of college life. Everything from completing homework and finding wireless locations to getting transportation to and from school was made more difficult by their homelessness. At one point their laptop cord was stolen, which left them without a means to use their computer.

Every class presented a new challenge of trying to be “good” students while being homeless, all the while facing the realization that they were outsiders among their peers.

“I had holes in my shoes, and Hannah owned one pair of pants,” Grimes said. “You look at the other students, and how privileged they are to have parents who can help. I was taking a weight-lifting class and was told I needed these special shoes. There was no way I could afford those.”

No family home for support, or meals, or a place to do laundry or to just hang out and do homework. Being homeless students meant being constantly on the move, with no place to call their own.

The couple acknowledged their failures at Shasta College. Grimes lived briefly in the dorms until he was kicked out for drinking. Cain had been receiving some financial aid but lost it when her grades dropped and she was placed on academic suspension. 

Things were looking up for the couple when Grimes got a job as an intern via the Smart Business Resource Center at a tire shop, which, with Cain’s then-college financial aid, allowed the couple to rent an apartment for a few months, like “normal” people.

Markis Grimes interviewed for and got a job at a tire shop. He was laid off after the six-week federal payment to the employer ended.

But Grimes said that although the program was beneficial for employers as it federally funded up to six weeks of an employee’s “training” wages, it wasn’t so helpful for Grimes, because he was let go when the six-week period ended.

Both Grimes and Cain have been through the Smart Center’s work readiness program. There, they’ve earned their food handlers certification and typing certificates. As an aside, Grimes says he can type 40 words per minute with 2 errors, while Cain said she can type 60 words per minute with no errors.

“At this point a job would be a miracle,” Cain said. “We just want to live and work like a normal person. We want a bed to call our own. We want a way to feed ourselves. We want our own roof over our heads. That would be the most amazing thing.”

Grimes said that he’s not picky, that he’d take almost any job.

“We have written cover letters, and we take all these steps to get a job,” he said. “I would scrub toilets with a toothbrush if it meant having a job. And we aren’t the only ones like this. We know lots of homeless people who’d walk on hot coals to have a real job.”

Markis Grimes  jokes around with a fellow homeless man.

“We can’t just wait around for an employer with a heart to give us a job,” Cain said. “At this point, we’re the only ones who can break our cycle of being homeless.”

Grimes agreed, but also acknowledged that it’s hard to not get discouraged.

“I’ve applied for a lot of jobs, but honestly, employers don’t want to look past what they see – a homeless kid, who maybe looks a little rough,” Grimes said. “It’s really sad, because if someone would give me a chance, they’d see I’m an extremely hard worker. And I have integrity. But I don’t get that chance.”

Cain said part of the reason the homeless often aren’t given a chance is because of some common assumptions about the homeless: They are dirty. They are criminals. They are unreliable. They are lazy. They are dishonest.

“What I also hear a lot is that people choose to be homeless,” Cain said.

“Really? Who in their right mind would choose to live like this, to have people look down on you, to go into a store and have people assume we’re shoplifters? We know there are people who like to camp out and use the mission, but we also know many more people who are just down and out and homeless because of some horrible circumstances, like us. We don’t steal or use drugs. We have morals. We are good people, and there are many other good homeless people just like us.”

Why foster care in the first place?

Cain and Grimes were placements in the north state foster care system for different reasons.

Cain, a doe-eyed young woman with a Mona Lisa smile, said she was removed from her family at age 17 and placed in foster care after she reported her father for abuse. Her accusations against him caused alienation from the majority of her family members that exist to this day.

Staying with her mother — who was divorced from Cain’s father — wasn’t an option, either, said Cain, because her mother suffers from such debilitating mental illness that her mother lives with and is cared for by Cain’s grandparents.

Grimes, an energetic  brown-haired, brown-eyed young man with a wide grin, said he’s never met his father. He described his mother as so mentally ill and drug-addicted that any maternal instinct was nonexistent.

“She would rather do dope than feed her four kids,” Grimes said.

Grimes told of a childhood in which he was homeless off and on, a childhood that included abuse. Grimes ran away a few times, but was returned by the police each time to his mother. Finally, after a younger sister called social services and reported that she’d been raped by their mother’s boyfriend, Grimes was removed from his home and placed in foster care. He was 11.

The last he heard, his now-adult siblings range from being toothless and addicted to meth, to wearing ankle bracelets.

“I have no family support system,” Grimes said. “They either don’t want to help or can’t help because they’re on drugs. Either way, there’s nobody there for me except Hannah. Literally, all we have is each other.”

“I had a different life than Markis,” Cain said. “For the first 17 years of my life I had a winter coat and yearbooks. I had food. Markis had none of that.”

Grimes smiled. “I had a hard-knock life. But what can you do? Nobody is going to give you a new deck of cards. You have to play the ones you have.”

Grimes said the couple decided that after they’d tried everything they could to succeed in Redding, and failed, it was time to move on.

“They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results,” Grimes said. “It would be insane for us to stay in Redding. Obviously, it’s not working here for us.”

In the fall Grimes and Cain felt excited about a program they heard about in San Francisco that helped homeless teens. So they set their sights on moving to San Francisco. Grimes even created a GoFundMe page in hopes of getting $900 to move there. In four months four people contributed a total of $25 toward the $900 goal. But it was a moot point because the program didn’t pan out. Neither did one they’d heard about for homeless youths in Butte County.

The couple was at a loss.

“We’re in limbo,” Cain said. “We’ve been struggling for years. We are so tired. We just want an honest opportunity at life. We are at rock bottom, and ready to give up.”

But they didn’t give up.

The first week of December they tried one more thing. They applied for work with the California Conservation Corps, though they’d heard openings were few and far between. Their dream job with the CCC would be with the Fortuna unit, because both Grimes and Cain love the ocean. They knew they would qualify for the CCC because they could pass a drug test, were free of convictions and were within the right age range – 18 to 25.

The CCC program would mean hard work in environmental conservation doing everything from fire protection, land maintenance and emergency response to natural disasters. Members of the CCC are paid minimum wage, but that’s fine with Cain and Grimes. Working for the CCC would also mean the security of housing and food.

“We don’t care how hard the work is,” Cain said. “Anything would be easier than being homeless.”

Good news, at last

They started attending Bethel Church, where they found people who gave encouragement and acceptance, and Grimes was baptized at Bethel. Once, when a woman at Bethel gave Grimes $5, he put it back in the church offering.

“I had been blessed, and I wanted to bless someone else,” he said.

Cain and Grimes spent spent Thanksgiving at the mission.

A few weeks ago they were informed that they’d been accepted to the CCC’s Fortuna unit after a pair of openings became available.

Next, some Bethel members helped supply many of the things on a list of items the couple would need to start work with the CCC; things like sleeping bags and outdoor clothes.

Finally, this week the couple learned that by working for the CCC, and being classified as officially employed, Humboldt County residents, they would qualify for a benefits program – Transitional Housing Plus – that they’d tried for more than a year – without success – to receive in Shasta County.

This time, their ages worked in their favor. The program was especially designed for former foster youth under the age of 24, a program in place before the passing of AB12.

If they were to receive the THP funding, it would supplement their income to the point where they could save enough money to get their drivers licenses, and maybe even buy a car.

In the meantime, the couple is literally counting down the days and hours until they head for Fortuna via Greyhound bus in the early hours of Jan. 3 and leave Redding behind them.

When that day comes, they will have achieved exactly what they wished for a few months back: the miracle of a job. At last they will have a chance to live and work like normal people. At last they will have beds to call their own. At last they will have a way to feed themselves. At last they will have a roof over their heads.

Grimes and Gain spent Christmas at the mission. But that was OK with them, because they were there with the certainty that this would be their last homeless Christmas homeless.

And that was the best Christmas gift of all.

###

Foster Youth Statistics

• By the age of 19, only 57 percent of emancipated foster youth have received high school diplomas or GEDs. 

• Less than 5 percent of foster youth graduate college.

• Employers are less likely to hire a former foster youth who have the similar qualifications than a non-foster youth.

• Less than 50 percent of former foster youth are employed 2 1/2 -to 4 years after leaving foster care; only 38 percent have maintained employment for more than 1 year.

• In California, 65 percent of youth leaving foster care do so without a place to live. 

• Only 40 percent of eligible emancipated foster youth receive independent living services.

• Nearly 40 percent of transitioning foster youth will be homeless within 18 months of discharge. 

• Former foster youth experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder at twice the rate of US war veterans. 

• More than 70 percent of all California State Penitentiary inmates have spent time in the foster care system. 

Source: Voices Youth Center

Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Prior to 2007 Chamberlain was an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, CA.

Doni Chamberlain
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Chamberlain is an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, California.
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47 Responses

  1. Avatar Hal Johnson says:

    Wow. I knew the outlook tends to be grim for kids exiting the foster care system, but I didn’t know it was that grim.

    • Avatar Hannah Cain says:

      Doni did an amazing job of putting our story into words. It may be grim, but it’s simply made us stronger, more resourceful people. 🙂 Thank-you for reading!

  2. Avatar cheyenne says:

    I can not understand the feelings of foster famlies who kick out foster kids when they reach eighteen. They are no better than the countless airlines who agree to fly out of an airport for a grant and when the grant runs out the airline leaves. With foster famlies, not all, it seems when the foster money stops the kids are kicked out.
    I have personal experience about this. When my youngest daughter was a senior at Anderson, about a dozen years ago, a friend of hers was an aged out foster kid. She turned eighteen and the foster family kicked her out without even letting her graduate from high school. We took her in and when I went to pick up her personal items the so called foster family had just stuck them under a tarp in the yard. She graduated from Anderson and eventually found a job and moved into an apartment on her own. She now lives in Sacramento as a wife and mother.
    Hers was an old story. She and her sisters had been taken away from a drug addicted mother who lived up north and the sisters were the only family they knew.
    I really think that there needs to be better vetting of foster famlies.

    • Avatar Hannah Cain says:

      There definitely needs to be a better selection process for foster families, but at the same time, there would not be nearly enough families for kids if the standard to be one was harsher. People who truly care should consider being foster parents! Thanks for reading!

  3. Avatar Kathleen says:

    Wonderful article Doni! It brought back so many memories. I was a homeless teen and your article did a great job of explaining the vast problems of trying to get out of that cycle. It’s hard but possible with help of others. Education, for me, was the key but very difficult. The library was my saving grace.

    My life has turned out to have many wonderful blessings that I never thought would happen to me. My prayer is that both Hannah and Markis have a chance to be the people they were meant to be. It’s so hard not to give up but you have to keep moving forward with your heads up and a happy life is possible. Once you make it out you’ll be in a position to pay it forward which is a wonderful feeling. I wish you both a HAPPY NEW YEAR!

    • Avatar Hannah Cain says:

      Thank you so much Kathleen! We appreciate your kind words and honestly cannot wait to pay it forward like so many nice people have done for us!

  4. Avatar Gerri Brousseau says:

    Am beginning to wonder if any of the Social Services in Shasta County actually work.We read about programs but am not convinced they do anything but supply jobs to people sitting in offices on high.It is a credit to these kids that they survived this system and seem to be quality human beings.Thank God they did not have mental health or other medical issues.Time for the citizens of Shasta Co to demand better !!!

    • Avatar Hannah Cain says:

      Your last sentence is spot on Gerri. The citizens of this county need to demand better services for many aspects of the community, from mental health and homelessness to the foster care system! We will technically be Humboldt county residents in a few days, but we are not abandoning our fight for better resources and services in Shasta County. 🙂

  5. Avatar Teresa Norman says:

    The sad stats that you list here clearly show the system is broken. Many foster homes are no more than “puppy mills.” They get paid to provide a place to sleep for these kids but do not provide any of the emotional support or “life skills” that family life provides.

    I am thankful that things are looking up for these two. The fact that they are so determined to stay drug free is amazing! I have offered a prayer that the work with CCC breaks this bad cycle they have been on and places their feet on solid ground for a future with hope!!

    • Avatar Hannah Cain says:

      The system is so broken, there is only so much either side; both the people who work in the system and those affected by it, can do. If this story had an effect on you, you are part of the change and can make things happen! Thank-you so much for your awesome prayer of encouragement.

  6. Avatar david kerr says:

    What is keeping these bright young people in the North State? Surely, they could go to the library and look up places with unemployment less than 5% and a growing economy. By staying here, they are investing in California.

    California was once a center of worldwide capitalism, a place of opportunity and a good place to invest.

    Those young people don’t have a house to sell and no strong ties. They should move to a better place to make a living and raise children.

    • Avatar Kay Beck says:

      If you don’t have bus fare how can you move?

      I have been very lucky in my life and have never been homeless, but I have always thought the possibility exists that I might be homeless one day. Most people are just one pay check away from ending up on the street.

      If you think it can’t happen to you, think again.

    • Avatar Hannah Cain says:

      Like Kay stated, we have never had the resources to move. We tried for 3 months to get the finances to move to San Francisco to try to get into a foster youth shelter there and nothing panned out for us. If you wanted to pay for our ticket and shelter to move somewhere better, we would have willingly accepted it before our job with the CCC came along. 🙂 Also, we don’t want children of our own, we want to be foster parents… when the time is right.

      • Avatar Beth Brunner says:

        Hannah, I believe that things happen for a reason and clearly, great things are going to happen for you and Markis. You are going in the direction you were meant to and only the trials and tribulations you have already been through could shine a light on that fact. I for one am so happy for you both, and although your paths have been rough, you two are going to end up head and shoulders above the rest of us.

  7. Avatar cheyenne says:

    Hopefully this young couple moving to Eureka will help them.
    As for similar cases I look at here in Cheyenne. We have an unemployment rate around 3% with lots of jobs as does northern Colorado. Due to the influx of oil play workers the residential vacancy rate is around 2%. For anyone moving to this area without ties they would find it difficult to find housing. The motels are full as are the RV parks. I would think any area with low unemployment would face the same housing problem.
    I would suggest to anyone looking for employment and housing to apply at Xanterra Corporation, it can be done on line. Xanterra hires over 2000 employees every spring just in Yellowstone. They furnish jobs, meals and housing. It is seasonal but it could be the start many need. If these people can get jobs with Xanterra possibly the bus ticket program in Redding could get them there.

  8. Avatar Kay Beck says:

    To Hannah Cain and Markis Grimes:

    The CCC age range is 18 to 25. You are both 22+. After you have completed your first year in the CCC, PLEASE start looking for jobs. You will be turned out of the CCC when you turn 25. You will need a new job before then.

    If you can enroll in a Junior College in Eureka, please do so. Even if you only have time to take one course at a time. It will pay off in the end. Get your Shasta College units transferred, before you leave Redding if you can. Sometimes it takes awhile to go through the admissions process.

    My heart goes out to you. I wish there was something I could do to help.

    Best of luck to you both.

    • Avatar Hannah Cain says:

      Amen sister! Thank you for your encouraging words. Don’t worry, Markis and I are fully aware of the details of the CCC program and are fully committed to look for jobs and housing when the time comes.

    • Avatar Jared says:

      Markus and Hannah are allowed to be in the CCC for up to three years regardless of when they turn 25. The CCC allows for any individual who meets the minimum requirements to enroll and stay enrolled passed the age of 25 as long as they were in the program before they turn 26. I encourage anyone who is interested in the CCC or who has any questions regarding the program to visit their website or call a local recruiter to get the full details.

  9. Seriously, I’m certain the CCC will be a good thing for them. Especially by going to a residential center like Fortuna, they will be able to pool their resources and gain some work experience. Make the most of your time on the Cs, guys, and the jobs will be there! Good Luck!

  10. Avatar Rob Simpson says:

    As a foster/adopt parent this is heartbreaking. I know things are looking slightly better but the road you guys walk is still a difficult one. Keep your head up.

    Accounts are set up in people’s names for accepting donations in cases of fire or loss. Surely one could be set up for these two and do better than the 25$ gofundme?

    • Avatar Hannah Cain says:

      The gofundme account that holds $25 on it has been changed so that it goes towards things like our phone bill, boot socks, and toiletries for the first month of our jobs (before we get paid). Doni has linked it in the article, but here is another link in case you missed it. 🙂 Thank you for your concern and encouragement.

      http://www.gofundme.com/glimmerofhope

  11. Avatar Canda says:

    Hannah and Markis, You’re in my prayers that the opportunity with the CCC will be the break you have been looking for. I agree with Kay, that you’ve got to be proactive and plan for when you have to leave the CCC. Stay strong, get your education, and never give up. May 2015 be your best year yet, and the start of a beautiful new beginning for you both.

  12. Avatar Ron C. says:

    man what a broken system. wonder what chief polletti thinks about this story? some people just need help and this proves it

    any rate good luck Hannah and Markis! no matter what, keep your head up, stay clean of crime, work hard and FOLLOW YOUR DREAMS!! only you can change it. it will be hard as you are finding out but NEVER GIVE UP! EVER!! dont let people pull you down.

    reminds me of a song by one of my favorite christian bands- Skillet and the song is “Rise”. get a chance listen to it.

    I reciently read a inspirational book that was made into a famous movie…it was called “the pursuit of Happyness” starring Will Smith and his son.which is based on a true story. (btw the book is never like the movie. alot of missing parts, etc). if you ever get a chance, please read the book. dont just see the movie.

    good Luck and God bless the both of you

    • Avatar Hannah Cain says:

      Thank you Ron! Markis loves the band Skillet! The CCC may be hard work but we can handle it! We both have a dream of working for the U.S. Forest Service and the CCC could be a direct avenue to that dream! God Bless. 🙂

  13. Avatar Joanne Lobeski-Snyder says:

    One of the resources these two have besides being healthy and having a good work ethic, is that they should be able to attend a community college and any university in the CSU system for free. There is help for housing and living expenses as well as tuition and books.
    More information can be learned at the Office of the Foster Care Ombudsman at
    1-877-846-1602. I suspect that Hannah and Markis are better educated and smarter than they realize.
    I wish them the best…

    • Avatar Hannah Cain says:

      I’m not sure about the free part, but there is a lot of help out there for former foster youth. Both Markis and I received the CHAFFEE grant when we could receive financial aid, but after many semester of trying to go to school while homeless, we both lost our financial aid services and therefore lost our CHAFFEE grants. When we get settled into our dorms in Fortuna we will definitely call that number and look into options. Thank-you for the information and for reading the article!

  14. Avatar Liz A. says:

    I hope they go to someplace like Portland- liberal, more compassionate attitude for the homeless……. great transportation network and lots more jobs. Remember Redding was long ago called ” the minimum wage town with a view”.

    • Avatar Hannah Cain says:

      This move to Fortuna is the first step; getting out of Redding. We don’t plan on staying there though. It depends on our experience and certifications with the CCC. We want to be park rangers and that is a job that would enable us to move around the country. 🙂

  15. Avatar Hannah Cain says:

    Thank you everyone for reading!

    • And Hannah, thank you and Markis for sharing your story with me so I could share it with A News Cafe.com readers. It’s not easy to allow the private to become so public.

      (Hannah, you did a great job replying to the comments, too! 🙂

      I hope you will think of us as your extended Redding family, and let us know how you are doing from time to time. We are rooting for you!

  16. Avatar Willie M. says:

    Hannah & Markis,

    After reading about all the obstacles that the two of you have faced (by no fault of your own) I feel compelled to help in any way that I can. Please contact me via e-mail at dawillz18@hotmail.com so you can let me know what else is needed. Good luck to you both! I have no doubt you will take advantage of this opportunity with the CCC and better your lives, and the lives of others.

  17. Avatar Sam Allen says:

    Again Doni, a great story! These kids have their heads in the right place. I really hope they get a break wherever they go.It is so difficult to get over the hurdles offered up ” on the street”. The homeless couple I know are still struggling. They get jobs but only part time. Never quite enough money to get into housing. Maybe we need transitional ya think?

  18. Avatar Kristie says:

    May God bless Hannah and Markis with the desires of their hearts in the days ahead and may this new year open every door of opportunity for them and shower them with the unlimited blessings that they both so deserve.
    Their humble and grateful hearts, after all that they have endured, are such a tremendous inspiration to many and will positively impact the lives of many others for many days to come.
    May they continue to stay strong and look forward to the many wonderful things ahead for them in life and be abundantly blessed each and every day. They are in my thoughts and prayers.

  19. Dear reader, Hannah and Markis left via Greyhound bus this morning for Fortuna and their CCC jobs.

    Because of so many of you who read this story, and contributed to their fund, they were able to exceed their goal of $500 to nearly $800 to get supplies for their move, everything from quarters for laundry to socks, stamps and warm clothes.

    Over the years A News Cafe.com has covered many stories about the downtrodden and homeless, and I’ve often felt great frustration that no solution was in sight. What a joy to have a story that ends with a glimmer of hope.

    We send this couple off with the most sincere wishes of success in this new chapter. Now, it’s totally up to them to make the best of this opportunity.

    I thank you for your compassion. This is what makes A News Cafe.com such a great place.

  20. Avatar Tami Lucero says:

    I have known Hannah for many years, through Shasta College. I am so glad that her and Markis have left Redding to go into the CCC, but why did they have to leave? Because Redding doesn’t help homeless people or because Hannah and Markis are former foster kids? Either way you answer this question it will suck. The fact that they had to leave to move forward says a lot about this community. It says that not only do we not take care of our own, we don’t take care of our foster youth, we don’t take care of the foster adults who were foster kids, and we surely don’t take care of homeless people. Donating money to the Good News Rescue Mission is not the long-term solution to this problem, either. So what is the solution? Maybe, together as a community, we can find that answer this year; rather than 20 years from now, 100 years from now. Good luck Hannah and Markis-always consider that you have a family here in Redding. Thank you Doni for writing this very difficult article!

    • Avatar Hannah C. says:

      Thank you Tammy! Everything I’ve wanted to say for a few years now. We had to leave because there was no help for us on any side of it, whether it be because we were foster youth or because we were homeless. I’ll miss you and tell all the women in the house I said hello!