Program helps homeless students find footing
Second Home corrals resources to help students succeed in safe environment
Being a teenager without a home or even safe shelter to count on doesnt do much for a students motivation, yet many homeless teens are determined to rise above their circumstances and complete their education.
Thats where Second Home comes in.
Sponsored by Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon in Portland, Second Home works with agencies in the Beaverton School District, the city of Beaverton and willing volunteers to ensure dedicated students without designated homes are safe, sheltered and able to give their best toward a positive life path.
Our purpose is to find a place for kids where they can best reach their potential, said Jennifer Pratt, program coordinator for Second Home. The program helps them to settle in to be the kids theyre meant to be.
After several months of development, Second Home launched in May 2010 as a response to the growing number of homeless students and inadequate housing options in the area. Program officials estimate there are 1,300 homeless students in the Beaverton area, down from more than 1,800 in the 2012-13 school year, with 450 lacking a parent or guardian.
In a short video on the Second Home website, Pratt describes the harrowing reality of the often overlooked epidemic.
Only these kids can really tell you what its like to be outside when the sun goes down, she said, recounting tales of a local student who slept under a basketball court overhang and another in the dugout of his schools baseball field. He would sleep in the dugout, go to school the next day and did that for several days until he got the courage to tell the teacher what was happening.
When a person is completely disconnected she said, and completely by themselves, thats got to be the scariest thing in the world.
Opening the door
When school counselors or the Beaverton School Districts homeless liaisons refer a homeless student to Second Home, program staffers connect the student with a home provider who offers room and board while he or she attends high school. To be eligible, students must be 16 to 21 years old, free of drug or alcohol addiction and showing a desire to apply themselves and graduate.
Rental agreements govern home-share arrangements and house rules the families and students negotiate together with the help of the Second Home staff and a volunteer mediator from the city of Beavertons Dispute Resolution Center.
Students and home-providers are matched to form a home-sharing relationship, with support coming from Second Home as well as community volunteers and other organizations. Home providers agree to supply room and board for the school year and possibly the summer. Foster parenting isnt expected, but mentoring is encouraged.
The home providers are really the heroes of the program, Pratt said. Its about building connections in real-life situations, working to help students to slip back into normalized living situations. Students get to integrate themselves (in the home). It really gives students lots of opportunities to grow.
Because most students dont have jobs, the rental agreement can be written to establish participation in normal household chores as de facto rent payment. If the student gets a job, she can pay a token amount to establish a rental history for future use.
Every interaction is substance in their bank. Its about saying Youre valuable. You matter, Pratt said.
Someone to turn to
To ensure a mutually beneficial fit, a mediation process sorts through potential issues that could arise, such as appropriate household language, attire, cigarette smoking and etiquette for having friends and dates come by.
We help set expectations about how its going to work, said Carley Berkey, program coordinator in the citys Dispute Resolution Center. Instead of having to navigate it on their own, we provide someone they can reach out to.
The mediation aspect goes a long way toward the programs success, noted Lisa Mentesana, the school districts homeless liaison.
The family and student can always come back to mediation, someone neutral to talk to, she said. I wish I had someone like that when I was raising my kids.
And its not all about problem solving, but also emphasizing the arrangements benefits.
We talk about challenges, but also whats going to be great about this situation for you, said Jim Brooks, program manager with the Dispute Resolution Center. Were trying to maximize their chances of being successful.
Anne Erwin, principal of Beaverton High School, said the program exemplifies the schools community-driven approach to helping students overcome all manner of obstacles.
They are a tremendous asset to us, she said. We want our homeless students to know theres somewhere to turn. Our challenge is to make them know what all those (options) are. (Second Home) is a rich and critical partnership we rely on and continue to foster.
Brooks, who counts success as a student progressing to the next grade level or graduating, describes the program as collaboration at its finest.
Its different community partners with different skill sets bringing them to the table to solve a variety of problems, he said. Its an amazing effort.Add a comment