The Rev. Shane Harris, formerly president of San Diego’s chapter of the National Action Network, is now active through his People’s Alliance for Justice. Photo by Jason Greene

The Rev. Shane Harris of San Diego was named last week to the county’s Child and Family Strengthening Advisory Board.

“As a child who grew up in the foster care system in San Diego County, Rev. Harris provides a perspective based on lived experience and passion for improving outcomes for our youth,” said county Supervisor Kristin Gaspar, who made the appointment.

Harris, 27, didn’t wait long to make an impact.

The next day — Jan. 15, the real birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. — Harris’ People’s Alliance for Justice and the San Diego Regional Task Force on the Homeless announced a partnership.

They said they would work together to survey San Diego’s homeless population to find out how many were formerly in foster care.

The partnership is a first of its kind in the country and has not been done anywhere, organizers said.

The Alliance for Justice’s initiative aims to address “disproportionality” within the foster care system.

In San Diego, African Americans make up 5% of the general population but African American children are 19% of the foster care system, Harris said.

“They are overrepresented and unheard,” Harris said. “The county is lacking African American foster home participation. They are losing more African American foster parents and bringing in more African American children.”

Tamera Kohler, head of the Regional Task Force on the Homeless, said: “Nobody had the data. We knew it was important to launch this effort in San Diego immediately.”

Kohler said she plans to discuss how the task force will add questions pertaining to foster care into the database over the course of 2020.

Harris himself went homeless for a period after the death of his parents and emancipating foster care at 18.

He said this would be a vital step in data collection and “make the government have to address being a better parent.”

At a San Diego City Hall press conference, Harris called on the Housing Secretary Ben Carson to add this as an initiative to HUD’S platform nationally — saying it is important to find out how much of the general homeless population nationally was formerly in foster care.

Harris said he looked forward to serving on the Child and Family Strengthening Advisory Board.

“As a former foster youth, I know firsthand that things must change in regards to how our most vulnerable children are treated in our systems,” he told Times of San Diego.

“Today we beat the status quo and I am excited to get to work on behalf of all of our children in child welfare to fight for them and make sure the County begins to take on disproportionality an issue in which they have ignored.”

He said he planned to use his position — with no pay but bimonthly meetings — as a “checkmate” to bureaucracy.

Harris also plans to push for more cultural competency training for all child welfare services staff.

He says county government isn’t being transparent about having more former foster youth involved in training and teaching social workers, judges, therapists and foster parents.

Harris, whose term is through January 2021, “hopes the board can accomplish pushing the county to create mandatory policy changes to the amount of training and types of trainings yearly,” said an alliance spokesman.

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