Brownell: Host homes help unaccompanied youth toward graduation
"Anna" was a high school student living on her own. With no place to call home, she spent nights "couch surfing" at friends' houses, while doing her best to focus on school. Upon learning about Anna's housing instability, her high school counselor told Anna about Second Home — a host home program for unaccompanied high school students. With the stability of living in a host home, Anna graduated from high school last year and earned a full tuition scholarship at Oregon State University last fall.
There are many more students in tough situations like Anna's.
Host homes are a community-based housing solution for unaccompanied youth. Teens or young adults living on their own and sleeping at a friend's house, at a shelter, in a car or outside are known as unaccompanied youth. When attending public school, unhoused youth have access to some services and resources, but school cannot provide the stability of housing. A safe and stable place to call home normalizes a student's high school experience and allows them to focus on their studies instead of worrying about where they might sleep that night. Second Home students graduate at a rate of 93%.
Host home providers are volunteers who open a room in their home for the student to live while they move toward self-sufficiency. Second Home, a program of Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon, coordinates host homes for students in school districts in Washington, Clackamas and Lincoln counties, and Gresham-Barlow. Host homes are not foster homes, but home providers and students often develop a mentoring relationship that guides and encourages the student. When there is a caring adult in a young person's life, that relationship can help the student flourish and allow them to reach their goals and potential.
Home providers are trained and supported by Second Home staff and mediators from local municipal mediation programs throughout their time in the program. Mediators assist home providers and students in writing a rental agreement, where the student "pays" rent by staying on track to graduate, remaining drug- and alcohol-free, and participating in household responsibilities. This begins the living arrangement on the right foot, with clear expectations.
Host homes help break the cycle of houselessness by providing a footing for youth to achieve high school graduation, establish a rental history, and prevent a cycle of unstable housing that can be difficult to break. Second Home is seeking home providers for students in immediate need, as well as in the future. Precautions are being taken for COVID-19, but if prospective home providers are more comfortable waiting a few weeks or months, they can apply and train now, and a match can be made later.
Amy Brownell is Second Home Washington County's regional coordinator.
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