This plan can get Louisville homeless youth off the streets. But it needs funding first
On any given night this summer, at least 50 young people in Louisville will go to sleep at-risk, finding their beds at shelters, in cars or on the streets.
These youth, which could number up to 80 on a single night, are ones already accounted for. Up to 1,000 more, advocates say, could be crashing on couches, unsure how long they'll be a welcomed guest.
In the work to get Louisville's young adults safely housed, one of the biggest threats is time — the days and weeks it takes to first secure youth rental assistance and to then find a willing landlord.
Because within that time, unhoused youth are especially vulnerable to issues that could derail their future, including violence, trafficking and substance abuse, said Joe Hamilton, vice president of prevention services and Pathways HOME at the nonprofit Home of the Innocents.
Hamilton and other Louisville housing advocates say they have a solution — but they need the community's support to make it a reality.
The fix, advocates say, is a temporary housing strategy known as "host homes."
Under the arrangement, vetted and trained community members offer to take young people into their own homes, hosting them in private rooms while they await permanent housing. Volunteers host just one young adult at a time, offering them at least one meal per day.
At her home in Louisville's Klondike neighborhood, Phyllis Hildreth, 76, and her husband Jim, 80, have been a host family "for years and years and years."
They're currently hosting a young man who would otherwise be unhoused. The couple is helping their guest, 23, with his job hunt. He wants to be a graphic designer.
Phyllis knows there are many more young people in Louisville who could benefit from the stability a host home provides.
"When they start telling you their stories, and you think 'Oh my god ... They've not had hardly any opportunity to be part of a real family,'" she said.
The hosting arrangement at the Hildreth's house, however, is informal.
To solidify an official host home program in Louisville, advocates estimate they need roughly $150,000 — enough to hire a case manager and provide monetary incentives to hosts for things like food and utilities costs. Organizers also hope to offer funds to the youth themselves for day-to-day living expenses.
Louisville launched a successful one-year host homes pilot in 2018, but then funding dried up. And because host homes don't currently qualify for funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Louisville's host home advocates are now turning to the community for sustaining support.
"Funding is really where the struggle is," said Nikki Thornton, executive director of True Up, a nonprofit collaborative focused on foster youth.
Thornton and others say the need for host homes is urgent — especially for foster and queer youth, both overrepresented in Louisville's homeless youth population.
The Junior League of Louisville has committed $20,000 to the effort. Securing the rest of the needing funding will put Louisville on par with other cities, including Cincinnati, that already have full-fledged host home programs, according to organizers.
"Other states are doing this … are finding success," Thornton said.
During an interview with The Courier Journal in mid-June, Phyllis Hildreth found herself momentarily distracted by a text that popped up on her cellphone.
The message was from a young adult the Hildreths had previously hosted. She was seeing if the Hildreths could help her unhoused friend, a young woman who was pregnant.
"I just wish that we could reach out to people and say, you've got extra room. You don't have to keep them forever. But give them a place to stay," Hildreth said. "Give them a smile in the morning, teach them how to cook, teach them how to manage money, you know, laugh with them."
Here's what you need to know about host homes in Louisville:
How to donate
Funding for host homes is being overseen by Louisville Youth Group (LYG), a nonprofit that specializes in supporting LGBTQIA+ youth.
"The money is how we move the program along," said Atom Murphy, grant writer and volunteer coordinator for LYG. "... It's being like, 'Hey, I want to help fund this program, I want to donate money towards this program. And that's literally it: writing a check and sending it to us."
Individuals looking tomake a donation can send a check to Louisville Youth Group, Inc. 417 East Broadway, Louisville, KY 40202. Or, they can donate online at Louisville Youth Group's website, using the "dedicate" feature to note the donation is for host homes.
Foundations interested in supporting Louisville's host home initiative can contact Louisville Youth Group directly at email@example.com.
What it takes to be a host
Organizers say hosts typically take in youth for at least a month because it often takes that long to get them connected to permanent housing.
"A host home could be that sort of temporary stay between, you know, being literally on the streets and then waiting for your apartment to come through," Hamilton said.
All hosts would have to pass background checks and undergo training before they take a youth in.
To learn more about the host homes in general, local advocates recommended the website for Point Source Youth — https://www.pointsourceyouth.org/ — a nonprofit based in New York City that supports host-home efforts nationally, including in Cincinnati and Baltimore.
Those in Louisville interested in possibly becoming a host can contact Louisville Youth Group: firstname.lastname@example.org.
How youth can sign-up
Youth in need of emergency housing should contact the Coalition for the Homeless at (502) 637-2080.