Kitchener-Waterloo

OneRoof Youth Services' Host Homes program expanding to neighbouring cities

OneRoof Youth Services' Host Homes program had a successful first year in Kitchener-Waterloo and now organizers are hoping to expand the program into Cambridge, Guelph and the townships.

Program helped youth move into independent housing, but getting landlords on board is challenging

Natasha Monteiro (left) and Amanda Vinette are co-ordinators of the Host Homes program at OneRoof Youth Services in Kitchener. (Carmen Groleau/CBC)

OneRoof Youth Services is hoping more people will become involved in the Host Homes program as they work to expand into the surrounding cities of Cambridge, Guelph and the townships.

The program was launched last year and called on people to open up their homes to a youth facing potential homelessness in an effort to divert them away from the shelter system.

Co-ordinators Amanda Vinette and Natasha Monteiro said the program had a successful first year acquiring 10 host homes, which helped 14 youth.

Eight of those youth successfully completed the program and were able to move into independent housing or reconnected with family. Others were able to go back to school.

"It's been very positive for me. I have a very kind and nice host home provider," said one youth who is currently part of the Host Homes program. CBC Kitchener-Waterloo is keeping her name confidential as the stigma that comes with homelessness could impact her ability to find a home and work.

"One thing I can take away is how strong I am and having case workers who really affirm to me that I am working hard and motivated helps with my self image."

She said the Host Homes program has allowed her to stay in school and she soon hopes to pursue a career in psychology in the future. 

Meeting a need in cities, townships

Vinette and Monteiro said difficult situations at home, the current rental market, a decline in youth mental health and a rise in addiction are some of the reasons why youth can face homelessness in the community.

"Cambridge is not immune to that. Guelph is not immune to that and any issues we have in Kitchener-Waterloo we definitely see in those areas," Vinnette said, emphasizing that a host home program is necessary in other places like the townships.

"For example, in Elmira, we have some providers but there are no shelter agencies within Elmira and we need to meet that need."

The program works with youth ages 16 to 25. Host homes can house youth between 30 and 90 days.

"What we're seeing and hearing from both [host home] providers and youth is that [30 to 90 days] is a good amount of time to get out of survival mode and and decompress," she said.

"But finding housing, getting into school programs, working on financial literacy and finding employment can take more than the three months," she adds.

Vinette hopes that new host homes will be open to allowing longer stays this year. She and Monteiro will also work on increasing the number of LGBTQ friendly homes.

Getting landlords on board on-going challenge

Monteiro said an ongoing challenge they face is trying to get landlords involved in the program. She and Vinette said they are alarmed with how some rental adds specify on gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity and income.

"If they don't fit that criteria, then is really a no go," Monteiro said.

She said their goal this year is to create stronger relationships with landlords and superintendents.

"We do want to put the words out to landlords and superintendents to have that partnership and understanding that these youth are trying and they are motivated to be productive members of society," she said.

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