As a teen, Tina was living in turmoil.
Her mother’s boyfriend moved in. Drinking, drugs and abuse soon followed. It wasn’t long before Tina (not her real name) argued with the boyfriend and was kicked out of the house. She spent time couch surfing at friends’ homes, but knew that was no real solution.
Tina was facing true homelessness until she learned about Host Homes for Homeless Youth, a program that gives stability to students in Antrim, Benzie, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska and Leelanau counties. Through the program, Tina was placed in a stable host home, graduated from high school and went on to college where she’s finishing her degree in social work.
“Your program saved my life,” she later told program director MaryBeth Novak of Catholic Human Services.
Over the past nine years, the program has supported 160 unaccompanied teens (those not at home with a parent or guardian). Ten teens, all from Grand Traverse County, are currently in Host Homes.
The program is voluntary for both the student and the host home. Students usually stay for the completion of a school year, sometimes longer. When a student graduates from high school, some leave the program, while others stay with the host family while attending Northwestern Michigan College.
“Students are homeless for a variety of reasons,” Novak tells The Ticker. “Many are faced with an environment that is no longer a safe place for them to live because of verbal, physical or sexual abuse and/or parental drug abuse or abandonment. Sometimes the parents are suffering from mental illness.”
Without stable living arrangements, teens are likely to engage in high-risk behavior for day-to-day survival. They are also at extreme risk for dropping out of school.
“These kids are in a really bad position,” says Novak. “They can’t stay at home and survival takes priority over education. These are kids who don’t want to get into foster care. These are kids who are determined to finish school. They know they need a high school education.”
Host Homes conducts extensive checks the backgrounds of both the teens (any history of crime and they’re not allowed in) and the host families, which range from empty nesters with an extra bedroom to younger families with teens of their own. Host families receive a $10 per day stipend to help offset the cost of housing and food.
All told, one student in the program for one year costs approximately $4,200. A recent SwingShift and The Stars fundraiser netted $31,500 for the program, which is also supported by more than a dozen sponsors, including United Way of Northwest Michigan, Rotary Charities, Zonta Club of Traverse City and others.
“No one’s getting rich off this program,” adds Novak. “We’ve had some great host homes. We have teens we could place, but right now we’re in desperate need of homes.”
To learn more, contact Catholic Human Services or Novak directly at (231) 929-7070.
For teens in an emergency situation, Goodwill Industries of Northern Michigan and Third Level Crisis Center operate Pete’s Place, an emergency shelter for youngsters 14 to 17. Teens can get emergency housing, food and clothing there. The length of stay is limited to two weeks. The program is focused on reintegrating teens with their families, if safe and feasible, or into foster care or a host home.