Objective: Help young women aging out of foster care get the support they need to live independently.
In a Nutshell: HOME strives to be more personal and flexible than a contracted transitional living program. Youth are allowed to stay in the HOME facility for indefinite periods, and live with a staff of unpaid volunteers.
How It Began: May 2003. Bridge of Faith, a nonprofit that works to lower recidivism among convicts and to help emancipated foster youth, bought an estate in a residential neighborhood, where HOME operates.
Who Runs It: Founder and Director Carol Reza, a real estate agent by trade, who also runs Bridge of Faith. About 10 volunteers donate their time each week.
Obstacles: Getting word of the program to girls in foster care. The nonprofit formed partnerships with local businesses and spread the word among service agencies, while churches and community organizations referred girls to HOME.
Cost: About $200,000 a year. The girls pay $600 a month, which includes room, board and utilities. Although HOME receives no direct federal funds, some of the girls get about $600 a month from the Department of Health and Human Services’ Independent Living Program. Grantors have included Kaiser Permanente ($18,000), Allstate Insurance ($10,000), The California Wellness Foundation ($5,000) and the city of Whittier ($3,000).
Youth Served: Up to eight live in the house at a time, and 17 have lived there so far. The average length of stay so far is nine months; the longest is 12 months and counting, while the shortest was 10 days. About 75 percent of the tenants have been either Hispanic or African-American.
Youth Turn-On: HOME offers girls more private space than a standard transitional living facility, while the small number of youth and the unpaid staff foster a family atmosphere. “Each girl can have a private room, bathroom and amenities to enjoy for as long as they need,” says Reza. “If one of them wants to go to medical school and stay because they are more comfortable here, then they can.”
Youth Turn-Off: “The girls often have trouble facing the new responsibilities of employment obstacles, financial independence and behavioral accountability,” says Reza, who has asked some girls to leave because they weren’t pursuing work or education.
What Still Gets in the Way: “Attitudes, PMS, and teen girl issues,” Reza says. “In addition is family reunification, or lack of it. It creates an emotional roller coaster prior to the girls learning to set boundaries and understanding the difference between acceptability and expectations.”
Research: Of the 17 girls who have gone through HOME, six are living on their own in apartments, four returned to HOME, two returned to their families, and there is no information on the other five.