“Housing is a basic right that everyone deserves,” Andrea Martin, housing coordinator at Arbor Circle, said. Yet, according to Arbor Circle’s website, there are over 3,300 youths who experience homelessness every day in West Michigan. “We want to get the word out so people understand that youth homelessness does exist in their communities even if they don’t always see it,” Martin said.
To address this issue of youth homelessness, Arbor Circle is launching a new service that aims to create stability in the lives of young adults across Kent and Ottawa Counties. The Host Home Program serves 18-20-year-olds who are struggling with either homelessness or housing instability by matching them with volunteers in the community who have agreed to provide a space in their own homes for the youth.
“We hope to also remove some of that stigma around youth homelessness and really make a more open, affirming and accepting community so youths can be within the community and get the support they need,” Ashley Pattee, clinical supervisor of youth development services at Arbor Circle, said.
For these young people, shelter is only one concern of their everyday lives. Youth homelessness affects all aspects of an individual’s life, including their health, education and career. When these young adults do not have a safe and stable home to live in, Martin explains that they are at a greater risk to also experience food scarcity, unplanned pregnancy, lack of medical or mental health care and human trafficking.
Because of these risks, Arbor Circle’s goal with the Host Home Program is not only to reduce the overall youth homelessness population in West Michigan, but also act as a preventive measure so fewer young people will have to encounter these challenges.
“The number one issue or cause that young people report having to either experience homelessness, running away, or being asked to leave the home is family conflict,” Martin said.
Though family conflict may be the most common cause, Martin explains that it is not the only source. There are a variety of factors that lead to youth homelessness, including poverty, mental health and substance use issues that either the youth or the family may be facing.
Often, the sexual orientation or gender identity of the youth plays a big role in housing instability as well. According to Arbor Circle’s 2018 “Safe Impact” report, emerging local data showed that “a lack of family acceptance is the largest contributing factor to local LGBTQ youth homelessness.”
To best serve these young people, Arbor Circle will not be matching the youths to the volunteer hosts. Instead, this process gives youths the power to review the host profiles, self-select which hosts they want to meet with, and decide for themselves who they want as their host. If a young person has a relative, mentor or another supportive adult in their life that is willing to house the youth, Arbor Circle can help arrange and provide support in those situations as well.
Although this is a temporary housing solution, the Host Home Program intends to help young individuals by providing them with lifelong skills and resources. Through counseling and case management support, clinicians will offer youths the support they need to succeed by helping them identify and fulfill their own personalized goals, such as repairing relationships, earning a high school diploma or GED, finding employment, addressing mental health concerns or obtaining vital identification documents.
Because youth homelessness is a prevalent issue facing West Michigan today, the organization is relying on the communities of Kent and Ottawa Counties to respond. “What’s exciting about our Host Home model is that it really gives an opportunity for the community to get involved in the solution,” Pattee said. “The more hosts we have, the more youth we can place. Without hosts, there aren’t homes for youths to go to.”
Now in the process of recruiting volunteer hosts, Arbor Circle invites anyone who is interested to contact the organization directly or partake in one of its Host Home Program’s upcoming informational sessions on Tuesday, Nov. 13 at noon, Thursday, Nov. 29 at 4 pm, and Tuesday, Dec. 11 at noon.
To become a host, individuals must be at least 25 years old, have lived in West Michigan for at least a year, and provide a private, furnished bedroom for the youth. While the time frame depends on each case, hosts are also asked to commit to a maximum of one year. To ensure that the home will be a positive and safe environment for the young adult, potential hosts must be willing to complete interviews, background checks and a housing inspection. Once approved, hosts are provided ongoing training and continuous support from Arbor Circle.
If volunteering as a host is not an option, community members can still help spread the word by contacting Martin, who can set up informational sessions for organizations, churches or any other groups who may be interested. Arbor Circle will also be accepting financial donations for the program to ensure that all youths are provided with the necessary tools they need, such as bedding and transportation costs.
For those who are interested in receiving support from the Host Home Program, individuals are encouraged to contact Arbor Circle. From there, the organization will work with youths to identify their needs and interests.
To learn more about the Host Home Program, visit Arbor Circle’s website.