Young adults ages 18-24, especially those who identify as LGBTQ and former foster care youth, will receive supportive short-term housing within a home setting and wrap around support services as they pursue permanent housing. The first year goal is to serve 30 youth.
“What is so special about this is that it really requires community buy-in,” Inspiritus Youth Program Manager Alix Janke said. “If you are a person who has said there is a problem with homelessness and I want to do something about it, there is no more concrete way than to invite a youth into your home.”
Inspiritus, formerly Lutheran Services of Georgia that recently joined with Lutheran Services of Tennessee, has coordinated host homes for adults living with developmental disabilities for more than 30 years. Based in Downtown, the nonprofit also guides individuals and families through other challenges, such as specialized foster care, refugee and immigrant services and family intervention.
This challenge is no less daunting. According to the 2018 Point-in-Time Count, nearly 500 youth in Georgia were experiencing homelessness on a given night, which is likely an underestimate.
“We know that youth homelessness can look a little different, like sleeping in cars or couch surfing with a friend who at any given moment could ask you to leave,” Janke said.
LGBTQ youth are 10 percent of the population but approximately 20 to 40 percent of homeless youth, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness. And one in four former foster youth reports being homeless within two to four years of exiting foster care. That’s why these two populations are a special focus of the pilot.
With THRIVE!, youth who seek services from providers like Lost-n-Found Youth, Covenant House and CHRIS 180 will now have the option to choose housing in a host home and take an active role in a self-directed plan to achieve stable housing.
“Some young adults may want to go back to school and others have work experience but need safe shelter to get on their feet to make enough money for a deposit. We want to empower young adults to say, ‘this what a good life looks like to me’ and then we’re going to walk alongside you to get you there,” Janke said.
For this program to work, Inspiritus needs host home providers. Hosts receive extensive training prior to being matched with a youth, a modest monthly stipend and ongoing support from Inspiritus. To be considered you must be at least 25 years old, have an available private room, pass a background check, and meet other requirements.
“We are working with hosts in our application process to really get a sense of who they are, what they are looking for, what is important to them, and how they expect to engage. We want a portfolio of a range of homes from respite (up to one week) to longer term (up to nine months) to let youth guide their own match,” Janke said.
Hosts may range in their support and involvement, but all will have dedicated support including monthly peer support, ongoing training and the recruiter who will serve as a host case manager.
“We’re really looking for individuals in the community that are willing to open their hearts and their homes to our youth. [Hosts] willing to walk with them while we walk with the youth,” Fran Patrick, Inspiritus Youth Host Home Recruiter, said.
There are already host home applicants working through the process. Some have a connection to the LGBTQ community and are informally hosting already, others have personal experience with overcoming homelessness and for others this is an opportunity “to live their faith out loud.”
“We’ve been blown away by the level of enthusiasm that we’ve seen from the community.
We encourage people to attend an info session. We also love speaking engagements and face-to-face conversations with people who want to learn more about the issue of youth homelessness and how we can help solve it,” Janke said.
The program is also in need of volunteers and donations. Someone may not be ready to be host but could be a mentor and help with job coaching. Donations of cash and household items are also helpful for the youth as they transition into their own homes.
“Anyone drawn to this work is someone we want to talk to even if they aren’t able to open their home. There are a lot of ways to be supportive and get involved, so don’t feel limited,” Patrick said.
For more info see weinspirit.org/thrive.