Opening Homes for Homeless Youth

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Bryan and Helen Lopez had been living in their car before they were housed in Safe Place for Youth’s Host Home Program. Photo: Facebook

Demystifying negative stereotypes with SPY’s Home Host Program.

By Keldine Hull

It’s no secret that California has one of the highest homelessness rates in the country. According to the 2018 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress, there are 129, 972 homeless people currently living in California; 89,543 of which are unsheltered. The numbers are staggering and expected to increase over time. As the State continues to struggle with methods to help those in need, dedicated individuals within the community have stepped up to offer a helping hand.

Safe Place for Youth began as a 100 percent volunteer-based organization in 2011, offering clothing and food to the homeless youth from the trunks of their own cars. Located in Venice, SPY is now one of the leading organizations in the fight to end homelessness. Their Host Home Program provides a unique solution that matches those in need of shelter with individuals willing to open their homes to help others.

Andrew Gutierrez III is the Host Home Program Coordinator and offers insight into what the organization hopes to achieve through the new program. “Young people are the fastest growing group to experience homelessness. With rental costs increasing, lack of access to educational and employment opportunities with adequate wages, it is very difficult for young people to afford to live in Los Angeles,” Gutierrez explains. “The main goal of SPY’s Host Home Program is to pair community members who have underutilized spaces in their homes with transitional-aged youth who are experiencing homelessness. The Host Home Program enables SPY’s youth members to access short-term housing while building meaningful connections with caring adults in their community. Youth guests stay in their Host Home anywhere between 3 to 6 months while working with SPY’s case management and counseling services.”

Not only does the Host Home Program provide housing for those in need, it also serves to help eradicate the stigma surrounding homelessness. “Being a host has demystified negative stereotypes often associated by mainstream media about youth experiencing homelessness, i.e. all homeless youth are struggling with drug abuse, choose to be homeless, or do not have any goals or aspirations,” Gutierrez explains. “Once hosts interact and begin to understand their guests’ story, they realize youth have a variety of reasons that have contributed towards them experiencing homelessness and most is not by choice but rather due to systemic issues and inequities.”

With a safe roof over their head, youth guests can focus on finding employment, education, and long-term housing opportunities. Gutierrez continues, “Youth guests are able to develop genuine relationships with caring adults in their community which has empowered both hosts and guests to be involved with the movement in fighting homelessness such as advocacy and community engagement, speaking at city council meetings, sharing their story, and recruiting other youth and hosts to be a part of the Host Home Program.”

In a little over a year, the Host Home Program has already had a positive impact within the community, especially for those involved in the program. “There have been several success stories, however one that stands out is one of our members who came to SPY after living in front of an abandoned home,” Gutierrez explains. “They got connected to SPY’s supportive services and joined our Host Home Program. While staying in their Host Home for six months, the young person was able to gain job experience, receive case management and support in searching for long-term housing. They were also able to live with a caring adult who shared similar hobbies such as music and singing. The young person was able to move into their own apartment with the help of SPY’s Housing Case Managers as well as obtain a job in homelessness services. The young person is now working with other youth who experience homelessness in hopes of empowering and providing support to others.”

With the holiday season here, the country is reminded more than ever of the importance of giving back to those in need. “It is very important for community members to get involved with helping fight homelessness because it affects everyone. Our community is impacted when its young people are not able to live healthy lives,” Gutierrez explains. “I would encourage community members to have an open mind and engage with young people experiencing homelessness. Whether that’s volunteering at SPY, becoming a host or saying ‘Hello!’ to someone living on the street in your community. Let us re-humanize our young people who have often felt ignored and become a part of the solution by becoming involved in the movement to fight homelessness.”

To learn more about SPY and how you can get involved, visit: http://www.safeplaceforyouth.org

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