Community Stories

TOGETHER! Host Homes

This innovative program will be the first of its kind in Thurston County and is scheduled to begin housing students soon.

In 2020, the Community Foundation made several changes to our grantmaking, including the addition of Focus Grants to explore how concentrated funding for specific community goals could create a greater impact. We awarded two Focus Grants in 2020. One of these grants went toward supporting The Olympia Free Clinic to launch a mobile satellite clinic to deliver accessible health care to hard-to-reach communities. The other went toward supporting TOGETHER! to pilot a new Host Homes Program, which will be launching next month.

The goal of the Host Homes program is to “match” youth unstably housed or experiencing homelessness with host community members. Hosts provide a safe, nurturing home-like environment for unaccompanied homeless youth, freeing them to focus on finishing their education and achieving their future goals.

The Focus Grant funding served as seed funding allowing TOGETHER!—a Tumwater-based nonprofit with a mission to advance the health and well-being of all young people—to plan and staff the pilot for their Host Homes Program. After a year of planning, people are in place and the pilot is ready to launch. They currently have applications from potential host homes and plan to begin housing eligible young people beginning this month (January 2022).

This innovative program model will temporarily house unaccompanied homeless youth (ages 13-21) by connecting them with caring community hosts who agree to provide shelter for up to one year. By supporting these young people with housing stability in a nurturing environment, the program aims to help them build independent living skills and focus on key life goals, such as education, instead of worrying about where they’ll be sleeping each night.

Originally, TOGETHER! planned to serve some of the 10+ youth in the Tumwater School District, identified at the time, who would qualify for the program. However, as the year progressed, they joined efforts with North Thurston Public Schools, adding an additional 30+ students who may be eligible. Now, the pilot spans both districts and the scope has grown from three area high schools to six.  

TOGETHER! shares that: “Unaccompanied youth are youth 13-21 who are unstably housed without a parent or legal guardian. Youth who are unaccompanied find themselves in this situation for a variety of reasons including family dysfunction (domestic violence, drug & alcohol use, etc.), being “kicked out” for their LGBTQ+ identity (accounts for 1/3 of all unaccompanied youth), incarcerated guardian, deployed guardian, parent has a new partner, deceased guardian, deported guardian, and more. Unstably housed youth are 450% more likely to experience housing instability and houselessness as adults, 87% more likely to drop out of school, and 40% more likely to experience violence.”

The Community Foundation understands that these are critical needs to address for youth in our community. We funded the planning of this pilot because we believe in the team at TOGETHER! and in this program’s potential to make a positive impact, both for the young people it will serve and for the wider community. 

Now, as the program approaches its launch, we look forward to learning more about community needs, opportunities, and long-term solutions as TOGETHER! implements and continues developing the Host Homes program. One year after the funding was awarded, the Community Foundation and TOGETHER! held a virtual site visit to learn about the progress that’s been made so far and to gain insight into some promising elements of the Host Homes approach. We came away from that meeting with a sense of gratitude for how much progress has been made as well as excitement for the future. We can’t wait to see how Host Homes makes a positive difference and creates more well-being for kids in our communities, especially through the program’s commitment to the following:

Empowering youth.

The program interviews each young person to make sure the Host Homes Program is the best option for support. They also ensure that youth are informed through a thorough assessment and orientation for potential youth participants. Their goal is to give each young person autonomy. “This is quite possibly the only program in the continuum of youth services that is a choice for the young person,” says Gaby Hyre, TOGETHER!’s Host Homes Program Development Director.

Prioritizing safety and stability.

Hosts must pass a background check and undergo training similar to that in the foster care system. Training includes topics such as mandated reporting, confidentiality, suicide prevention, and trauma-informed care. Both Hosts and young people also receive ongoing wraparound support to help them navigate academic goals, gaining life skills, accessing health and mental health care, and building a good and long-lasting support network. 

Preventing future struggles breaking the cycle of homelessness early.

Similar programs are already recognized both nationally and here in WA as an innovative, inexpensive, and highly successful model to prevent future adult homelessness. It’s already proven to prevent and reduce school dropout, involvement with the criminal legal system, substance dependence, and involvement in the foster care system. TOGETHER!’s Host Homes program draws on the experience and knowledge of Mason County HOST—another program the Community Foundation has been proud to support with funding—and other similar programs that have had success around the country. The results of these other programs lead us to believe TOGETHER! will also be successful in their goal to break the cycle of homelessness early and support youth to create the stability young people need, pursue their dreams, and complete their education.

Understanding the stakes for marginalized groups.

Host Homes began in Minneapolis and was organized by members of the LGBTQ+ community in response to the startling fact that LGBTQ+ youth are overrepresented in homeless populations. This matches our understanding of local challenges as well. According to the Thurston County 2020 Point in Time Homeless Report (PIT), the third leading cause of homelessness here is “Family Rejection” and local LGBTQ+ people were overrepresented in the PIT survey at 3x their presence in the general population. The 2020 PIT report also indicated other local disparities among our unhoused population, including those who identify as Black (2x the general population), Native American (4x the general population), and multiple races (almost 2x the general population). Given these disparities, the Community Foundation supports TOGETHER!’s commitment to prioritizing equity as crucial to this program.

It brings the community together to help address a persistent need.

The community-based model rallies resources from multiple partners. Hosts have the opportunity to provide a concrete service for a particular member of the community while receiving formalized support. The City of Tumwater has committed funding to begin services to help the group launch the program, and the Tumwater Hopes Coalition has already committed time and support too. The partnership with the North Thurston school district, as well as strategic investments from North Thurston Education Foundation, further speak to the universality of this need and the possibilities of widespread collaboration and partnership. 

Based on metrics from similar programs, TOGETHER! expects high success rates. Of the 30-40 young people they plan to match with host homes in 2022, they anticipate that 90 percent will complete one full year with their hosts. They also expect increased academic attendance and  engagement, that 90 percent of students will graduate high school or complete a GED program, and that 90 percent of participating students will report that they feel safer and more able to focus on attaining their goals.

Congratulations to the team at TOGETHER! for a successful year of planning and on the launch of this important community-based program. Thank you for bringing this incredible resource to our community and inviting us to partner with you.

For more information or to support TOGETHER! and the Host Homes Program, visit their website.

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