*Based on SPY policies, photos and names have been withheld to maintain privacy for the families.
In December 2016, thanks to a connection made through the faith committee of the Department of Mental Health, Safe Place for Youth (SPY) was introduced to the operations team at an incredible church, who at that time, was wrestling with decisions regarding what to do with the a 3-bedroom rental property owned by the church parish. They hoped to meet some of their philanthropic mission with this home, while still needing to earn some rental income on the property. After learning more about the resources and needs within homelessness services in west Los Angeles, the church decided they were committed to moving in three Transitional Age Youth (TAY) families on separate leases as supported by Rapid Re-Housing (RRH) funds. Thanks to close partnership between the Youth and Family Coordinated Entry Systems in LA County’s Service Planning Area 5, St. Joseph Center and SPY identified five clients who had been assessed for RRH, were open to shared housing, and were in highest need of a long-term resource. Of these five families, three decided they were open to moving into the house based on other families also sharing the space.
On February 14, 2017, a couple with one child, and two single moms with one child each, moved into the home, generously furnished by interior design donations. This day was particularly emotional and meaningful for the couple who live in the master bedroom as they had been separated for over a year prior to move-in due to the lack of shelter resources available to couples.
Since moving into the home, each family has had beautiful successes and some natural hiccups. The couple has enrolled in individual and family therapy services, helping identify and resolve unhealthy family patterns from their childhoods. Their child, who was previously delayed in his gross motor development, is now walking and running, and loves to be with his dad and play with the other children in the home.
One of the single mothers secured her first full-time job since moving in, increasing her confidence and self-esteem and allowing her to begin to address immense trauma from her earlier years. Thanks to a generous scholarship, her son has been attending preschool since June 2017 and now acts as the big brother in the home, showing the the other two children games and books he learns in school.
The other single mother has also increased her income and identified her long-term professional and personal goals, including supporting her daughter’s verbal development and further deepening their bond.
All three families have resolved legal challenges through SPY’s onsite legal clinic in partnership with Public Council and have made incredible gains in their assertive communication and problem solving skills. They’ve also gained deeper understanding of other people’s perspectives. Thanks to the ever-supportive involvement of the church leadership the families have been able to participate in community activities at the church, including some part-time employment.
The personal successes that each housemate has been able to achieve, along with their meaningful community integration, speak to the power of shared housing and partnerships with the faith community. However, these successes were not without heavy ongoing support from both the SPY and St. Joseph Center teams or concerns regarding long-term success. Despite RRH only being staffed at an average of one case management visit per month, and there being no ongoing retention dollars for housed youth, this house has received over 160 hours of in-home support over the ten months, including emergency visits when needed to help respond to health challenges and interpersonal issues. House meetings have included redrafting of house guidelines to address group needs, the creation of cleaning calendars to ensure home upkeep, and trips to the grocery store to discuss budgeting and healthy eating. These activities were prioritized because there was a clear need, regardless of the staffing recommendations funding outlines.
Additionally, each family has received modified rental schedules at varying points in time to accommodate their income needs. While each housemate has secured meaningful employment, they have also lost jobs due to unforeseen employment barriers, demonstrating a need for a higher level of care. Mental health challenges that still persist indicate that while the housemates have been able to maintain this housing with its robust level of staff support, individual RRH apartments may not be feasible for each family moving forward, and permanent supportive housing may in fact be the best option for these families – a resource that is rare, particularly in the youth system.
SPY is immensely grateful for the opportunity this home offered these seven incredible individuals and hope to see RRH or permanent supportive housing support increased and enhanced to provide youth families what they truly need. They have found shared housing to be one of many crucial resources that the housing system will need to truly make a dent in the homelessness crisis, but also recognize that it requires ongoing funding resources.