KV, a lanky 15-year-old boy, appeared in the doorframe of YouthCare shelter’s meeting room. He saw a jar of candies and methodically picked through to find the “good” ones. KV then sat down, surrounded by a group of YouthCare shelter staff and a youth law attorney. KV is not yet eligible for Transitional Living Program (TLP), which is available to youth when they reach age 16, and he doesn’t want to be “shelter hopping.”
“A host home sounds like a decent option for me and anyone else like me,” he said.
Youth who lack stable housing and cannot return home to their families have few options. Minors seeking to temporarily or permanently secure safe and stable housing can file for a Child in Need of Services (CHINS), a minor guardianship, or private dependency petition. Yet those ways mean they must experience the adversarial legal process of court, talk to a judge, disclose private aspects of their life (including traumas they will have to relive), and miss school. They often still have an emotional relationship with their parents and caregivers, which gets poked and prodded during court hearings.
When KV considered all these options, he determined that he wanted to protect his relationship with his mom and family—so he declined to use the common available legal pathways. However, there remains an underutilized option: host homes. A host home “is a private home that volunteers to host youth in need of temporary placement that is associated with a host home program.” A host home program is typically run by a community agency that recruits, trains, and support hosts and the youth who participate in the program. Some of the programs serve youth under age 18 and some young adults ages 18-24.
Examples of host home programs can be found in Snohomish County (Cocoon House), Mason County (Mason Co. H.O.S.T.), King County (YMCA of Greater Seattle and the Garage Issaquah), and Pierce County (Harbor Hope Center). The agencies support the placement between a potential host adult with a youth seeking a host home. Background checks are required for both the youth and host adult. A case manager is provided to help the youth become self-sufficient. Some hosts are eligible for financial stipends for up to six months to offset any housing expenses.
Host home stays are meant to be short, ranging from 28 days to six months, until a time when the youth can be reunited with family, or when the youth reaches age 16 (and then qualifies to apply and live at a TLP).
KV likes the idea of a host home and thinks others would as well because the experience of living in shelters is so unlike living in a “for real” home. For KV, the shelter wasn’t an environment where he could flourish.
“You lose a lot of your freedom,” he said of the experience when he was about 14 and living at a shelter, even if it was better than “living under a bridge or at a bus stop.”
“You don’t have a lot of say in what you want to do,” he continued. “Your day is really planned out. Lose quite a lot of privacy.”
When folks asked KV to describe himself, he joked and struggled to answer. Then he opened up about himself. What are your interests? “Bunch of things actually. Main ones are engineering, basic mechanics, electronics, but no sports I don’t like sports at all! I love playing musical instruments.”
The word homelessness can cause people to numb out. The problem’s too vast, the people in need are too many. But solutions like host homes can provide a safe, nurturing environment for youth like KV. In sharing more about his experience with host homes and the need for more hosts, KV said “I think adults of any age … all fear what they don’t understand. It’s not great to generalize. Teens who go through struggles, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t open to help. If the adults could think about it, they could help teens be better adults. There’s a great window around age 15, where you can totally change your life! Host homes are a great way to do that.”
YouthCare Family Engagement Case Manager Taylor Pioli-Oster echoed what KV said about dispelling fears: “They need to know that all the parents are not awful. Some parents have struggled due to the high costs of housing. KV’s mom is present in his life and wants to provide for him. It looks different for each family and teen’s situation.” Pioli-Oster also pointed out that many who find themselves waiting for a stable place to live have never made contact with juvenile court.
Back on that day KV was sitting in the YouthCare shelter meeting room, he noticed that there were no Skittles in the candy jar and asked if someone could kindly restock more “good” candy. He’s a good advocate for himself. He’s a good storyteller. KV is comfortable sharing his story so others can better understand the needs he and others like him experience as they await stable housing.
KV, the YouthCare staff, and this youth law attorney thank you for getting the word out about the value of providing a host home for this group of teens.