Instead of sitting back and leaving problems regarding East Multnomah County's homeless population to elected officials and charity organizations, Ed Gray and Nancy Ashley sought to make a difference themselves.
Living near downtown Gresham, not far from the Springwater Corridor Trail, and the couple was aware of the growing number of people who need assistance within the community. So, they reached out to Second Home, successfully went through the application process, and welcomed a high school student trying to graduate into their home.
"We wanted to make a difference," Gray said, "so this provided a rather unique opportunity where we could actually do something."
Second Home is a program that helps any Gresham-Barlow District student who is attending high school, or an equivalent, with the intent to graduate. It pairs students without a stable living situation with volunteer home providers, who support the students while they work to complete their education.
The arrangements are governed by rental agreements and house rules created by all parties. Support for the participants is also provided by Second Home staff.
"Being able to provide a home for somebody expressly so they can finish high school is nice," Gray said. "It also indicates a pretty extraordinary individual because they are willing to put in the time and hard work needed to complete their education."
The couple learned about Second Home and contacted the program to set up an appointment at City Hall to learn more. They completed an application and were vetted using background checks.
"They had to make sure we were OK," Ashley said.
The group then searches through the students looking for housing, who also went through a similar assessment, to find a good match. A final appointment is conducted with everyone present, and the student has a chance to ask their potential home providers a list of questions.
After that final meeting the couple had a night to discuss, and an option to privately pull out if they balked at the last moment.
Second Home has a policy that no matter how far into the process, both sides have the option of opting out if the arrangement isn't working. This creates a safety net for all involved, preventing either the home providers or student from feeling trapped in an uncomfortable situation.
"In another residence I had the unfortunate experience of a renter who I wanted to leave, and you virtually cannot get them out," Gray said.
But for Gray and Ashley, their meeting with the student, whose name is being withheld for confidentiality, went wonderfully. The student, a senior at Gresham High School, moved in on Dec. 11.
"We both said we are definitely stoked to do this," Ashley said. "(Our student) is very bright, polite and nice. There is a certain amount of stepping off the cliff going into this, because you learn more about the person after being around them for a while."
Need for home providers
The Gresham-Barlow School District has 334 homeless students, or 2.8 percent. Across Oregon more than 21,340 students, or 3.7 percent of the Oregon K-12 student body, who meet the federal definition of homeless.
Second Home needs more home providers, as the group is at a critical low. There are a lot of students in the community without stable living conditions, which severely impacts their ability to succeed in school.
Home providers are expected to give the student room and board for the school year, with the possibility of extending into the summer depending on individual cases. The pairing creates a list of house rules and expectations together, with everyone involved providing input.
An example of some of the rules Gray and Ashley formed were keeping the house alcohol and drug-free. There isn't any requirement to serve as a foster parent, but often a mentoring relationship forms with the student.
"We have incorporated (the student) into our family," Ashley said. "We are more like grandparents to her."
The couple recommends signing up as home providers because it is an opportunity to help someone achieve admirable goals. They had an extra bedroom, kitchenette and bathroom in their basement, which made things easier, but smaller houses also can work.
"This isn't an opportunity for in-house labor. It shouldn't be an advantage to you," Gray said.
Tera Cleland, who coordinates Second Home, also works with East Metro Mediation, and can facilitate any conversations when needed. The group also performs regular checks with all the pairings to make sure things run smoothly and safely.
Both Gray and Ashley are glad to have participated with Second Home, and have loved having their student stay with them. She is doing well in school and thinking about attending Mt. Hood Community College to further her education.
"Ed jokes that (the student) is probably a plant, or an actress, who is doing a really good job selling the program because she is so amazing," Ashley said. "Anyone who wants to help socially should consider Second Home."