Ali Forney Center’s Host Home Program helps young teens

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The Ali Forney Center has announced the implementation of its Host Home Program. This innovation invites people to open their homes and host an LGBTQ youth for a minimum of six months. Given the severe shortage of shelter beds in New York, this program has great potential to make a significant impact.

After receiving a grant from the Roger I. and Ruth B. MacFarlane Foundation, AFC is creating housing options as an alternative to the shelter system for homeless LGBTQ youth. The program will provide young people with the opportunity to enhance their sense of healthy relationships with adults. This is particularly beneficial for AFC youth, many of whom have been disconnected from their families and would greatly benefit from affirming, supportive and healthy relationships with adults.

 

Derrick Cobb is an Ali Forney Center Graduate. AFC works to help LGBTQ runaway and homeless youth.

Derrick Cobb is an Ali Forney Center graduate. AFC works to help LGBTQ runaway and homeless youth.

This program is dependent upon LGBT community support to assist youth along a path toward adulthood and independent living. Hosts provide a safe home and the stability necessary for the youth to continue focusing on educational and vocational pursuits.

 

Mason Patenaude, a staff member at AFC, said, “We are currently accepting applications for people interested in hosting. We have been researching this program for over two years and funding was received in June 2013, allowing for a full- time Host Home Specialist to be hired. In this first pilot year of the program, we hope to have four to six host homes with plans to expand.”

When asked about the possibilty that the program will also get support in New Jersey, Patenaude said, “In order to expand The Host Home Program into New Jersey, we are looking for any possibilities to connect with local support networks. These can include organizations or individuals who are interested in learning more about the program in hopes of finding people who want to apply to become hosts.”

Mason says the requirements to be involved are that a host must have the capacity to care and support an LGBTQ youth and a willingness to maintain communication with Host Home Program staff. They must also participate in monthly home visits. All hosts must have a private bedroom or private living area with a bed for the youth.

Individuals and couples are welcome to apply. Hosts must be at least 30 years old and must have adequate financial means, understanding that there is no compensation for their participation.

“In the application, hosts are asked to provide three references,” says Mason. “AFC will conduct and pay for a background check and a State Central Registry check of all hosts. Hosts must also partake in one weeknight training and one full-day training on a weekend before a placement begins.”

“We are looking for hosts who want to take the time to get to know our youth and support them as they continue working and going to school,” says Patenaude. “As the youth move forward and expand their sense of independence, we as an agency want to connect them with people who are willing to grow with our youth as they become adults. While participating in the program, the youth are still welcome to access the services that we provide and will participate in case management with The Host Home Specialist. The youth who are eligible for this program have achieved a great deal of success, and we are excited to be able to work with hosts to provide the youth with a place to call home.”

Patenaude explained, “The program involves a six-month commitment. Our hope is that the relationship between hosts and the youth will continue well after the duration of the program. This might include the youth staying with their host family for holidays or during breaks from college or maintaining contact so that the youth have someone to call who they know will be a consistent source of support.

“The first step to becoming a host is to complete an application which is available on the website (www.aliforneycenter.org/hosthome).”

Once an application is reviewed, the applicant is invited for an initial interview with program staff. Then, if the applicant seems to be a good fit for the program, a second interview with members of The Host Home Community Advisory Board is scheduled. Background checks and references will be contacted as well as a home visit to assess safety of the home.

After meeting program criteria, hosts are asked to create an introduction of themselves, such as a binder with photographs or a video of themselves and their home. This will be shown to the youth who then selects the host they would like to meet.

AFC then coordinates an initial meeting with the hosts and the youth. They encourage the hosts and youth to spend time together for an afternoon, an evening, and ultimately a weekend. If both parties consent, a contract outlining any home guidelines prior to the placement is made. After all of this, if the match seems to be strong, they will officially begin the placement in a host home.

“Throughout the program, AFC will be actively involved in ensuring the well-being of hosts and youth by providing support through 24/7 on-call availability of the Host Home Specialist and through monthly home visits,” says Patenaude. “Hosts and youth will also be provided with support groups either within AFC or through external support groups.”

The youth also have responsibilities. “The youth who are eligible for this program have been residents of AFC’s Transitional Housing Program and will be working and/or in school for at least 35 hours per week. The program is available to youth ages 21-24. They are considered based upon their ability to live well with others in our communal residences and their success with meeting program expectations. The youth application process involves submitting their own application, being interviewed by program staff and attending a program orientation. They are expected to play an active role in the matching process with the hosts.”

Once the placement begins, the youth must be present at the monthly home visits as well as meet with the Host Home Specialist on a regular basis to discuss budgeting/saving plans, employment, education and housing plans for when they complete the program.

“We are still in the application phase, so success stories are soon to come!” says Patenaude.

It has been said “no man stands so tall as when he stoops to help a child,” and that is fully true of those who help the young people of our community, so many of whom are in desperate need.

The Ali Forney Center is the nation’s largest services and advocacy organization working on behalf of LGBTQ runaways and homeless. Contact them for more information at www.aliforneycenter.org.