While many young adults - especially during this time of recession - find themselves living at home well past high school ages, the foster care system is not so forgiving.

A collaboration of people in Long Beach celebrated the re-opening of the historic Palace Hotel Wednesday for its new use - to help bridge the gap of the foster system and help place young people into jobs and a pathway to success.

City officials, LINC Housing, the Long Beach Housing Development Company and United Friends of the Children celebrated the grand opening of the new-but-old apartment complex. The Palace has been well known since the 1920s, but now it will house 13 studio apartments for emancipated Los Angeles County youth ages 18-24 in United Friends' Pathways Transitional Program.

Eight people have moved into the complex so far, and officials said they expect it to be full very soon.

"It's absolutely extraordinary, it is beautiful and it is comfortable," said Polly Williams, United Friends president. "We couldn't be happier for it."

The Pathways team will be there to assist the young adults with counseling and work with them to find long-term employment. The studio units are at affordable housing prices, so the tenants can maintain a living arrangement as they prepare to enter the independent work world.

Foster care is over for children once they turn 18, which can mean high school students are sometimes put on the street before they even graduate. According to United Friends, 36% of foster youth become homeless within 18 months after leaving the system.

"It's a lot to assume that any 18- or 19-year-old can go out and get housing and a job without any support," Williams said. "Everyone agrees that these negative statistics (for foster children) don't have to be."

The Pathways program has kept in contact with 77% of its students since it began 10 years ago. Of its former participants, 85% are in stable housing and 67% are still employed.

"What makes us unique is the extent to which we go and create a relationship between the youth and the program," Williams said.

The Palace is the sixth location of its type that United Friends is running in Los Angeles County.

Several years ago, when the opportunity to buy the building from the city arose, LINC Housing was looking to partner with a good cause, said Hunter Johnson, LINC president and CEO.

"We consciously did that and started looking for a project to invest in," he said. "The city put in a request for alteration, we responded and we were fortunate enough to be chosen."

LINC restored the Palace while keeping its historic look intact - the interior is very modern with top-level environmental and sustainability accolades. It is two stories and has a special roof deck, counseling offices, a computer station, social room and a classroom. There also is a commercial space that will be used by the company iCracked - which will serve as an iPhone repair service center that could employ the youngsters living in the building.

"We're thrilled to have it be up and running, and for the overall community this should be a great improvement to the neighborhood," Johnson said.

Fourth District Councilman Patrick O'Donnell said it was good to see so many different businesses, organizations and government agencies come together to complete this project.

"This is a very important program because it addresses a largely unmet need - those kids who are cut off from foster care," he said. "When a kid is cut loose like that, they're sitting in a boat without a sail."

O'Donnell said the building should have a positive impact on the surrounding neighborhood and Anaheim Street, and that he was happy that United Friends was involved, especially because the Pathways program includes not just support, but accountability.

"The homeless problem is a much more complex issue than a guy walking a shopping cart," he said. "As a high school teacher I have many kids who are in foster care and I'm always concerned who is going to watch out for them."

For more information on United Friends of the Children, visit www.unitedfriends.org.

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