Homelessness in Pierce County increased by 37 percent since 2015 according to a Community Connections point-in-time survey, aiming to count the region's homeless population on one day. Young adults struggling with homelessness are often a group overlooked, but a Tacoma-based shared-housing organization is fighting to end the pattern and match homeless youth with local home providers.
A group especially vulnerable to the dangers of homeless living is youth. Unaccompanied youth and young adults between the ages of 13 and 24 without a legal guardian constitute about 5 percent, or 90 people, from the roughly 1,800 homeless persons living in Pierce County according to a recent Community Connections study.
Tacoma's nonprofit organization Shared Housing Services aims to reduce and prevent homelessness by connecting the homeless population to stable housing and the individuals with resources to become self-sufficient. In 2013, the organization developed the Youth Host Home Program aiming to get young people off the streets and into a home. Shared Housing began partnering homeless kids with caring community members that opened their home and provided a spare room.
“The goal is to house unaccompanied youth with high barriers and place them in a home-sharing situation and give them a place to live while we assist them with their educational and career goals,” says Amy Klippert, Youth Host Home Program coordinator.
In partnership with Associated Ministries and The REACH Center (Resources for Education and Career Help), the Youth Host Home Program connects homeless youth, youth in shelters and homeless domestic violence survivors with individualized case management that matches them with the best housing fit for their situation.
“People confuse it with foster care, but it's actually very different. We help our young adults to be as self-sufficient as possible,” says Klippert.
The program is aimed to prepare the youth for self-sufficiency within a year with homeowners acting as mentors along the way. “The biggest challenge is finding home providers. People don't understand what kind of support we can provide for them,” says Klippert.
After hosting international students, and being open to the idea of a new roommate, Pierce County resident Jennifer did know that she wanted to make a difference in someone's life. Through the program, a match with a young woman was made. “I feel like it's a win-win. I am helping someone get started with their life as an adult, and she fits right into our family,” she says.
Turning her son's old bedroom into a new home for someone in need was Jennifer's way of "giving back to the community.” After receiving a brief training regarding self-care, quality mentorship, conflict resolution and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Jennifer (last name withheld for confidentiality) met her family's new addition and is now helping with tasks like building a budget. “It's what I would do for my children; it's what I would do for any of my friends,” she says.
“We have a goal to get youth housed within 30 days, and as of now we've housed all of our participants in under 30 days,” Klippert says. She hopes that the program will continue to grow and families or individuals with a spare room will consider providing the extra space. Both parties will receive a background check to ensure a safe environment for everyone, and weekly check-ins guarantee the success of the program and a positive experience for home providers and youth.
“These are people that might have not come from the same background to be open to hearing their story without judging who they are or where they are in their lives,” Jennifer says. “This program is out to end chronic homelessness. They are interrupting a pattern that could become chronic for someone.”
Klippert is hoping that people open to shared living spaces and taking the challenge of being a mentor will reach out to Shared Housing Services to get connected with a young adult in need of a haven. Home providers will receive a stipend to cover monthly rent. Anyone that doesn't have space or time is welcome to contribute through monetary donations, donating hygiene products, bed sheets and towels or volunteering for any of the home-sharing programs.
Any individual or family interested in hosting a young adult is encouraged to reach out to Shared Housing Services at (253) 272 1532 or www.sharedhousingservices.org.