At the start of 2019, Devon Corpus, a senior program officer with Community Human Services, went on an outreach spree. It involved spending a few thousand dollars on advertising, reaching out to a half-dozen or so groups and hosting an event, all with the end goal of finding people willing to go through a vetting process and open their homes, on a short-term basis, to kids in crisis.
CHS has a need for host homes for kids under the age of age of 18 (but usually between ages 12 and 17) to stay for between a single day and three weeks if things are rough in their own homes. For example, if a grandmother is raising a teenager because the teen’s parents have passed away, and the teen is depressed or isolating themselves, the grandmother might need some help in the form of a timeout. The teenager needs a safe place to stay while the family gets some counseling and a plan for moving forward is set. Or a family on the verge of homelessness might need a place for their tween to stay while they work out new housing and move.
It could be anything.
“It’s like a foster home, only when you use that word everyone freaks out,” Corpus says. “It’s really to provide a safe place in the short term so we at CHS can help the family do the heavy lifting, with the goal of reunification at the end.”
CHS dropped information at two large Peninsula churches, attended an event at a third, sent letters to Rotaries asking to be invited to speak (and got no response), presented to educators and handed out flyers.
When it came time for the big event, though, the one at which CHS hoped to recruit new host families for the Host Homes for Youth program, only one person showed up. He’s 79 years old and his wife passed away; he was concerned about taking on cooking for and transporting a teenager.
As a result, Corpus says, “We have zero homes. We need four beds and we have zero.
“This is local missionary work. You don’t have to go somewhere else to be a help,” she says. “This is a way to help a family and get an immediate return for what your heart has invested. This is the most direct and easy way to make an impact.”
Here’s what’s required to be a host home. You must have valid CPR and first aid certificates. You must submit to a background check. You must go through 12 hours of training. You must be available 24-hours-a-day, seven days a week, to accept placement of youth into temporary housing (although host families can take off four weeks each year). You must provide two beds (though it doesn’t always mean two kids will be placed together), daily necessities like bedding, hygiene supplies and two meals a day. Non-relative overnight guests must be approved in advance by CHS.
Encouraged but not required: host homes are encouraged to provide recreational opportunities like games, movies, books and sports for their youth guest, and if the youth needs transportation to school or doctor’s appointments, the host home will be compensated if they can provide it.
Just for being a part of the program, a host family will receive $200 a month in base pay. The host family will also receive $50 per night per placement (after the first four nights) up to a maximum of $1,200 per month.
There’s a desperate need right now. Corpus says CHS has the highest number of crisis assessments in April and May (when the school year is coming to an end) and August and September (when the school year starts). The greatest number of referrals come from school counselors, who notice things like truancy and falling grades.
Here’s how the host program made a difference for one kid. A teenage girl at risk for trafficking didn’t understand that she was exposing herself to danger on social media. She received a temporary placement and counseling and came to understand what might happen if her behavior continued.
“People say, ‘Oh, at-risk kids? I don’t want to get stuck with someone. What if they tear up my house?’” Corpus says. “It’s hard to know what words to use to appeal to people. But you can become the positive influence in a kid’s life that changes everything for them.”