Richmond youth host home program provides housing, family to young people
Nationwide, 1 in 10 youth between the ages of 18 and 25 will experience homelessness over the course of a year. In Richmond, one program is trying to change that, by pairing young people with families willing to provide short or long-term housing.
It’s late afternoon at an area Subway and a group of friends are chatting about their grades.
Trammell: I’m so proud of you, look at you!
That’s 19-year old Chelsey Trammell. She just started taking college classes this fall at J. Sargeant Reynolds, and is encouraging her friend Andi Cooper – a senior at Richmond’s Armstrong High School. Trammell’s trying to stay positive about her classes, too.
Trammell: It's great. I do have my bumps in the road, but that's typical for a student. All I can do is try my best and that's about it.
Both have dealt with housing instability. Trammell’s currently living in an apartment with roommates. But when she was in high school, she lived with a host family.
25-year old Elaine Williams helps her host parents make tuna melts for dinner. She’s been living with Larry and Nancy Tingle on and off over the last five years. She’s so comfortable with them, she calls them mom and dad, even though they’re not her legal parents. Growing up, she moved around a lot - living with different relatives. She also experienced eviction in middle school.
Williams: I remember like sitting in a room packing everything up, but because we didn't know where we're gonna go, we couldn't take anything with us. So we left everything in a shed and literally took three outfits. And I remember my younger sibling and I like switching out outfits every day.
During her senior year, she was staying with a friend. Things were looking up. She’d just started a new job with better pay. But the same day, she found out her friend’s family was also getting evicted.
Williams: I can remember it like yesterday...
Williams contacted her mentor, Natalie May, who would later launch the non-profit Change the World RVA, that works with youth who’ve experienced homelessness.
May was out of town, but immediately contacted her friends.
May: Well, it's her first day at work, and she's texting me and I'm at work in Charlottesville and can't help, but I did send an email again to everybody I know saying: could somebody please help her go get her things and let her stay with you for a few days until we can figure something out?
The Tingles wanted to help.
We had a truck, that's why we got called. We had a truck, the truck to grab her stuff, but she said yes. And we had a place to stay.
After Williams moved in, Larry Tingle noticed she hadn’t unpacked - and was sleeping on top of the bedding.
Larry Tingle: So we talked to her one day and said, you know Elaine, this is your room as long as you need it. There's a closet there. There's a chest of drawers there as a cabinet with two cabinets actually, and other places said, take your stuff out of the bags. You're going to be here tomorrow.
That meant a lot for Williams.
Williams: And that was like the life changing moment for me because I've never heard that before.
Nancy Tingle has always had stable housing, so being able to give Williams a home was life changing for her, too.
Nancy Tingle: The idea of so many things that we take for granted, like a place to sit for dinner without worrying about anything, a family who loves us and stability that we just plain take for granted.
The Tingles helped Williams apply to VCU, where she studied social work. She lived on campus, but would come back to stay with them on weekends and holidays. And after she graduated, she moved back in. Williams is now working full time with the non-profit Thriving Cities Group. She’s also a founding member of the group Advocates for Richmond Youth.
Williams: When I'm able to, I want to pay this forward. like I want to be able to give back.
The Tingles were the founding family for what became a formal model for other families to follow, the Richmond Youth Host Home Program. There’ve been about 15 young adults served to date: at least three staying with host families for over a year.
Chelsey Trammell stayed with her host family for close to a year. Her host mom, Kay Bolen, still keeps in touch with her.
Bolen: She’s doing extremely well, and I see a confidence building in her that I had not seen when she was with us. She was very timid and very afraid of imposing on us or in any way bothering us. And that seems to be gradually changing as she starts to be more self reliant.
The only other housing option for Richmond area youth is through what’s called rapid-rehousing. Local nonprofits like St. Joseph’s Villa help youth find apartments, and provide financial support while they get back on their feet. About 300 youth in the Greater Richmond area have been served through the program over the last five years.
Kimberly Tucker is with St. Joseph’s Villa. She refers some youth to host homes.
Tucker: We know that not every situation will work out perfectly. Um, but we think for many youth it can be, it can be literally a lifesaver between, you know, living on the streets and being someplace safe.
Elaine Williams initially looked at apartments with her mentor Natalie May. But she quickly realized she didn’t want to live alone.
Williams: We were driving around looking and I was just like, no, I don't want this. Like I want to feel what a family is and this is not the family environment.
She found that environment with the Tingles. Nancy Tingle says she’s welcome to stay for as long as she likes, but even if she moves out, she’ll always be part of the family.
Nancy Tingle: You might not be physically living here, but you never lose that, you know that.
The Tingles say they wish more families would consider hosting a young person experiencing homelessness. From cooking meals, back-to-school shopping, and rides to work, they’re working with the community to expand everyday services for more of Richmond’s youth.
Megan Pauly, VPM News.