Host Homes Change Lives
When we begin educating community members about the realities of homeless youth, they often ask, “What can I do to help?”. If you are interested in making a significant and tangible impact in the life of a homeless youth, consider becoming a Host Home.
When a young person has been living on the street for months or years, a place to call home is a game-changer. That’s why Our Ark developed the Host Home program. We pair homeless youth with generous homeowners in the community willing to house and support them.
Melissa Welcomes Tinsley
Melissa is Our Ark’s first Home Host. Her passion for serving homeless youth started in Seattle in the early 2000s when she worked for Central Lutheran Church. After recovering from cancer several years ago, she began working with our founder Danny at another youth outreach organization. When he began Our Ark, she stayed involved and served as a Mentor for up to three homeless youth at a time.
She knew she was ready to apply to be a Host Home as she began to forge a relationship with a youth named Tinsley. Tinsley lives with autism. She was assigned male at birth and has a past filled with profoundly traumatic events. Melissa is helping Tinsley get a state ID so she can access disability benefits as well as the mental health services and hormone therapy treatment she desperately needs. Melissa’s home serves as a safe place for Tinsley to sleep, eat, and find emotional comfort as she works through the GED program at SPSCC.
Melissa’s wife and son have welcomed Tinsley into their family. “She fits in really well,” Melissa says. “She and my son act like siblings.” Tinsley participates in family meetings and family chore time. Her cleanliness and personal hygiene have improved significantly in the short time she’s been living with Melissa.
In this instance, a strong emotional bond has been forged between the Home Host and the formerly unhoused youth. While this is not the typical expectation of a Host Home arrangement, Melissa suspects Tinsley may live with her for quite some time.
How to Become a Host Home
The process of becoming a Host Home is long, thorough, and framed with intention and integrity. Our Ark’s number one priority at all times is the safety of our kids and the safety of our volunteers. We have to make sure that all parties are comfortable with the arrangement, so there is a robust application form and interview process that must be completed at the outset.
Our founder and CEO, Danny, gets to know Host Home volunteers very well before pairing them with a youth. Once a pairing has been made, a series of meetings that progress in length occurs. They start away from the host’s home, with Danny. Then everyone meets at the prospective host’s home, including Danny. Then the youth and the prospective host(s) spend a short time together without Danny, away from the home. Finally, the youth spends a short period of time at the home without Danny. After every meeting, all parties are asked to check in with themselves and be honest about comfort levels and concerns.
Once it’s been determined that the youth is ready to transition into the Host Home, a one-week stay is scheduled. At the end of the week, everyone checks in. If everyone is still feeling comfortable, the youth stays for an additional two weeks. From there, the duration of a youth’s stay can be predetermined or, like Melissa and Tinsley, go on for an unspecified amount of time.
Ground Rules and Boundaries
A Host Home stay does not start without firm ground rules and boundaries. Melissa made it clear from the outset that violence or angry outbursts would not be tolerated. When Tinsley takes the bus to meet up with her friends, she knows she needs to make choices that keep her out of trouble. If she gets in a fight or does something that gets the police involved, her welcome in Melissa’s home will be jeopardized.
Teaching Financial Literacy
To help youths build financial literacy, Our Ark funds monthly stipends for all youths currently staying with Host Homes. One-third of the $200 per month stipend is put into a savings account that the youth will have access to at the end of their Host Home stay. The youths are expected to manage the remaining two-thirds. Typically, a portion of it is used to help cover the additional food and utility costs in the Host Home.
Alternate Host Home Configurations
The circumstances and logistics of a Host Home can vary. If you have a large yard or an Auxiliary Dwelling Unit (ADU) on your property, but don’t have space or aren’t comfortable with the youth staying in your home, you can invite the youth to live in a tent or stay in the ADU but have access to your bathroom and kitchen. If you own property where work needs to be done, you might arrange a working relationship with the youth as well.
Why We Need Host Homes
It might feel like a stretch to ask community members to consider welcoming previously unhoused young people into their homes. We know that this act of selflessness and generosity might seem unfathomable to many. We feel certain that there are more people like Melissa living in Thurston County who have space in their hearts and their homes to help a homeless youth in this hugely significant and impactful way.
When a youth who was homeless suddenly has a roof over their head, a place to keep their belongings, and a space to take care of themselves and take pride in, they have a significantly greater chance of furthering their education, finding a job, and forging the resiliency they need to live their life in a self-supported way. One kid at a time, we can end the cycle of youth homelessness together.
If you are interested in Our Ark's Host Home program, start by filling out our volunteer application.