The organization is looking for local volunteer hosts
Ronda Smeltzer is no stranger to the phrase “it takes a whole village to raise a child.” As she strives to launch Room One’s foster home program, the sentiment rings true.
The Host Home Program, facilitated by social service agency Twisp Room One, aims to place young people between the ages of 12 and 24 in safe, temporary homes by pairing them with volunteer hosts. Room One chief executive Kelly Edwards said providing a stable living environment is often the first step in helping a young person succeed.
For more information on the Host Home program:
- visit the Room One Host homepage at https://roomone.org/programs/youth-housing-support/host-home-program.
- contact Ronda Smeltzer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- The first room will hold a foster home information session in the North Community Meeting Room of the Winthrop Library on August 3 from 5 to 6 p.m., followed by a question and answer session.
- Room One will also be hosting weekly outreach events on Wednesdays at Twisp Park from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. through the end of the month.
“Unless you feel like you have a secure, stable place under you, you kind of need it before you can work out the other issues in your life,” Edwards said.
Room One recently made its first housing placement for the program, but Smeltzer, coordinator of Host Home, said that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The organization still has six to seven young people in desperate need of housing and only one volunteer host available.
“We have young people who need places to go,” Smeltzer said. “We just don’t have enough hosts, we don’t have enough places to put them.”
There are many reasons a young person might come to Room One looking for housing resources, Smeltzer said. Often a family simply outgrows their home but cannot afford to move, leaving older children in need of a new place to live.
Youth and young adults may also flee unhealthy environments, such as a home with an abusive partner, a parent who is not supportive of their LGBTQ identity, or a family member living with mental illness or addiction. Although the foster home program does not work with youth who have open child protective services cases or criminal histories, they can still seek help through other Room One programs. .
As part of its programming, Room One solicits youth input on a Youth Housing Advisory Council and compensates them for their time. An advisory board member, who asked to remain anonymous for privacy reasons, said she left her parents’ home in the Methow Valley just before her senior year of high school. The constant fighting and power struggles with her stepfather, she said, created an unstable home environment that she knew she had to leave.
“Moving was really good for me,” she said, “to have control of my life and not have to worry about four siblings screaming when I went to sit down and work.”
Although the advisory board member sought resources at Room One before his move, the Host Home program was still in its developmental stage at the time, with no volunteers signed up. When an affordable apartment came up for rent, she saw the opportunity and took it. For the following year, she balanced high school classes with four days of full-time work in order to pay the rent.
Not a new problem
Although the foster home program is gaining momentum, the reality of youth housing instability is not new. Edwards said many community members were informally welcoming young people into their homes long before the organization implemented its program. One of the motivations behind the project was to provide structure, training and resources to support these hosts.
“In a rural community, people really care about each other,” Edwards said. “We won’t let a child out on the street, we’ll take them in and give them a couch or a blanket or a meal and keep them safe for the night. And so this idea of looking out for each other, it works… but it’s not a sustainable model.
The foster home program was approved and funded in the fall of 2019, but due to COVID-19, volunteer recruitment was suspended until early 2022. Room One held its first session of in-person program information in May.
During the hiatus, the organization developed Foster Home Program policies and connected young people with case managers, working with more than 35 young people through its Supported Youth Housing Program .
Carrie Port, youth housing case manager, said the foster home program is youth-centred and youth-led. As part of its program development, Room One consulted with its Youth Housing Advisory Council to refine matters relating to the foster home program housing agreement. The housing agreement is a form that youth and hosts complete to establish housing preferences and non-negotiables around topics such as curfews, household chores, and relationship dynamics.
During the matchmaking process, young people and hosts also have the opportunity to meet — first at a neutral location, then, if both parties wish, at the host’s home. Smeltzer said the idea is to pay close attention to the pairing process early on, so no conflicts arise later.
“We don’t take these decisions lightly, because we want it to work from the start,” Smeltzer said. However, youth and hosts have the option to opt out if at any point in the process they feel uncomfortable.
Port works with youth in the program before and after placement to help them with needs like getting a cell phone, finding a job and connecting with a counsellor. Once the youth has moved into a home, she also does home checks with the youth and the host, first once a week and then as needed.
Housing options in the Methow Valley and Okanogan County – especially rentals – are scarce. In 2021, TwispWorks’ in-depth economic study of the Methow Valley reported an average of 36 people per unit on the waiting list for subsidized housing.
Smeltzer said dealing with housing instability in an area like the Methow Valley can be difficult because of how easily it can slip under the radar.
“Homelessness is very different in small towns than in big cities because when most people think of ‘homeless’, they think of people sleeping under bridges and camping in parks and on sidewalks” , Smeltzer said. “And that’s just not what it looks like here in the Methow Valley. Roaming here means staying on your friends parents’ sofas and sleeping in your car and camping and couch surfing.
The advisory board member said one thing that stood out about living alone was how aware she was of other people’s housing difficulties. She recalled several friends who spent time living in their cars or in trailers on people’s property, with situations sometimes changing weekly.
“It’s so invisible to everyone, like, ‘Homeless in the valley? What?’ And I think part of that is because they don’t really identify as homeless,” she said. “It’s hard to identify with that extreme word.”
As Room One seeks to expand the foster home program, Edwards said its success will depend on the support of community members. Having a portfolio of just 10 volunteer hosts could help place young people into safe homes faster and provide more options for suitable matches.
Edwards said that for those who cannot commit to a longer-term hosting commitment, Room One also needs relief hosts who can support young people during transition times or for a week. or two when a longer term host needs a break.
“Most of the kids and young adults who come into this program are already raised, they’re already on their way to adulthood,” Smeltzer said. “They just need a safe landing space to start their future.”