Children Left Behind: Many Former Foster Kids Forced Into Prostitution

OAKLAND (KCBS) – Half of the homeless people in the Bay Area are former foster children, and most of the young prostitutes working in East Oakland used to be in foster care, according to experts.

Understanding why so many of the young girls on International Boulevard wound up living on the streets or forced to sell their bodies means looking at the options available for foster children when they turn 18, said Brejon Fontenot, a former foster child.

“The system doesn’t have too much placing for foster kids, so there’s nothing for them to do but to go out on the street,” she said.

KCBS’ Doug Sovern Reports:

International Boulevard, once called E. 14th Street and still known as the Track, is where Fontenot found herself, unprepared to live on her own when she aged of a group home on her 18th birthday.

“Things were really rough. I got into a lot of mischief and a lot of trouble, and things I wish I could take back because I knew I wasn’t that type of girl,” she said.

Brittany, who asked that her last name not be used, led a similar life. Getting kicked out first by her own family, then by the system, took a heavy toll on her sense of self-worth.

“You start to feel down, and then worthless, and just like nothing,” she said.

Complete Coverage: Doug Sovern’s Children Left Behind Series

The workers who do outreach along the Track have just a few seconds to make contact with a girl before a pimp notices their arrival, or the girl simply walks away.

Victoria Harris hops quickly out of a Covenant House California van to do what she calls “curbside case management.”

Her rap is simple: how are you doing? Are you safe? Are you OK?

Then it’s back in the van with her partner, Clay Adams, looking for more girls that need help.

Adams said they sometimes approach the pimps as well, though often he stays behind in the van.

“They won’t talk to me,” Adams said. “If anything, they’ll talk to Victoria and usually it’s like a playful interaction of trying to hire her.”

But he is vigilant since the men have become much more threatening towards outreach workers as police try to crack down on illegal activity along the Track.

Adams notes that many of the pimps are also veterans of a foster care system sorely in need of reform.

The next installment of this series examines what’s being done to help foster children after they turn 18.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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