Photo courtesy of Facebook

By Becky Avila, PhD – SPY Development & Communications Manager

Searching for an apartment can be daunting, especially if you’ve never done it before. From setting a budget for skyrocketing rent to inquiring about included utilities, scheduling viewings, and filling out applications, the experience can be incredibly overwhelming. For young people exiting, or on the brink of homelessness, this process can be even more disheartening. The search is often a time-consuming process conducted almost exclusively on public transportation, which can be discouraging and, at times, fruitless. Even when enrolled in a housing program that offers a rental subsidy or financial support, the stressors and duration of the housing search can be a real barrier for some and decrease their chances of ever putting those financial supports to use.

As an organization, Safe Place for Youth (SPY) is committed to building a community where young people can lead safe, stable, and self-directed lives. As a result, we were motivated to come up with a solution to connect young people to housing. Our Housing Opportunity Mentor, In Effect (HOMIE) Program is an innovative mentorship program designed to connect young people, between the ages of 18-25, with community mentors to support them with navigating their housing search. Having a reliable, dedicated person to talk to can help a young person move past the specific challenges of finding a place to live and give them access to a resource that is life-saving: housing.

The young people we serve at SPY are among the most marginalized, underserved, and at-risk youth in our community. Many are fleeing abusive home environments, have aged out of the foster care system, and lack stable supportive networks to help them transition into adulthood. Indeed many of our young people have never had an adult mentor of any kind. By connecting young people to caring, consistent, and supportive adults, we believe we can support young people experiencing, or at-risk of, homelessness with the resources that they need to successfully locate and maintain housing.

In the past, our HOMIE volunteer mentors have supported youth with locating an apartment, filling out rental applications, writing letters of recommendation, moving-in furniture and supplies, and most importantly, providing our youth with emotional support throughout a sometimes arduous process. Furthermore, the HOMIE program not only connects young people to housing but also works to create much needed ties between housed and unhoused neighbors. According to the 2018 Point in Time Homeless Youth Count, there are over 3,000 homeless youth sleeping on the streets of Los Angeles County on any given night–10% of which reside on the westside. The HOMIE Program offers a meaningful volunteering opportunity for community members to have a tangible and concrete impact on helping move a young person off of the streets.

“I volunteered to participate in [SPY’s] HOMIE program,” shares one former HOMIE volunteer,  “because I wanted to work to relieve the state of homelessness that is so prevalent in my community. I provided transportation and support with moving in. I helped my HOMIE partner in a critical time of need when there was no one else that could step in. I was so glad I could provide an essential service. I feel like I made a true difference.”

Mentoring helps young people, especially at-risk youth, succeed in school, work, and life.  Research shows that when integrated into local and national initiatives, mentoring strengthens efforts to reduce poverty, violence, and promote healthy decision-making, positive behaviors, and strong futures. The resources within our local community is vast, and our HOMIE Program maximizes these resources by fostering relationships between those who have the capacity to give and those who have severe need. Most significantly, our HOMIE Program empowers  the community to be a part of the solution to ending youth homelessness.

If you are interested in learning more about SPY’s HOMIE Program consider attending our informational session on Wednesday, February 13, 2019 from 6-8pm at Safe Place for Youth. Contact home@safeplaceforyouth.org to rsvp and for more details.

If you’d like to connect with or donate to Safe Place for Youth please email our team at info@safeplaceforyouth.org and/or visit our website www.safeplaceforyouth.org  to subscribe to our mailing list.

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