There is no need for a kid to sleep in Wright Park!

This piece was written by Maureen Larson Bonck and Mike Bonck, Proud SHS Host Family.  Associated Ministries, Shared Housing Services, REACH, VADIS, and Oasis Center partner closely to provide housing and services for youth experiencing homelessness–a collaboration known as Housing 4 Success

We have cobwebs …  in our spare bedroom!  There is no need for a kid to sleep in Wright Park!” I said out loud the Monday morning I read about Brandon, a homeless youth, in Larry LaRue’s column in the News Tribune on 4/08/13.  Imagine not knowing where you will sleep tonight.  And your accommodations might not include a (clean) bed but a friend’s floor or couch or even a makeshift outdoor shelter without a shower the next morning.  And locating your sleep site does not guarantee an evening meal.  It saddens me that our youth must expend energy to implement basic survival skills each day to solve their basic needs.  Needs our own kids woefully take for granted.

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I quickly called Kurt Miller, Director at The Reach Center and proclaimed my desire to host a similarly ‘parent challenged’ youth.  Carley Cysensky with Shared Housing Services, immediately called me for a phone interview and program outline.  I was dismayed to learn that 3,000 youth a year are homeless in Pierce County.  They can’t progress in school or make future plans without basic stable housing.  They carry all of their belongings in a backpack.

We completed an extensive questionnaire ‘wish list’ on desired housemate characteristics for a mutual match with a youth aged 16-24 years old.  We easily passed a criminal background check, home interview and inspection. It is a pain-free process.  The timing was right pending our youngest daughter’s college graduation.  We were transitioning officially to full time empty nesters.

6267516029_1d59ff6ae3_bI interviewed several youth–incompatible by mutual agreement.  We envisioned a relationship beyond a Landlord/ Tenant rental. I soon learned we wished the role of ‘Bridge Mentor’ described in the book “Framework for Understanding Poverty”, by Ruby K. Payne, Ph. D. recommended by Carley to understand poverty patterns.  I sensed the perfect match would find us.

I received a call from an Assistant Principal from a Tacoma high school the Tuesday afternoon before Easter.  We were as excited as adoptive parents but saddened by the bittersweet reason we were gaining a new family member.  Our youth met his human limit of juggling the onerous role as his addicted father’s caretaker while attending school on a daily basis.  Housing was chaotic and temporary.  Travel to school was challenging requiring new and lengthy bus routes with the ever changing residence location.  At one time he rode his ‘rickety’ bike to school in all types of weather before it was stolen.  He experienced daily uncertainty that Dad’s antics would cause them to be kicked out each afternoon he returned to a benevolent stranger’s house.  Academics and after school activities became his home and escape from his evening instability.

Homeless Youth, tacoma, shared housing, youth in trouble, associated ministries, AP4HI still tear up when I envision the poignant picture of him on crutches with a broken foot hobbling to catch a bus after missing a closer one.  No youth should feel that desperate to catch a bus when travel to school is a parent’s responsibility.  I would be frustrated at the multiple times Dad’s promises to rent an apartment did not come to fruition.  He considered moving into an abandoned pickup truck to continue his schooling. No youth should yearn for the comfort and calm of a stable and mainstream home life.

Did I mention this high school Junior achieved nearly a 4.0 GPA? He is a leader in JROTC, ASB and lettered each year on the varsity wrestling team.  He was recently accepted to a Boys State Citizen camp and is competing for admittance to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.  I am certain only a select few at his high school even knew of his homelessness from his outside appearance.

It’s been a month now and we’ve settled in a routine.  My husband drives our youth to school in the morning on his way to work.  He’s adjusted to my step-daughters ‘girly- girl bedroom.  I pick him up from wrestling practice, volunteer for ‘mom’ duties and provide day to day ‘grandmother’ mentoring to a ‘grandson’.  We enjoy the youthful energy in our once ‘too quiet’ house.  We’ve chaperoned at least one date and assisted with exciting prom preparations for a second date.  I forgot the ‘thrill’ of teaching a new driver to transition from a ‘white knuckle’ experience to an additional family chauffeur.  I feel invigorated anticipating the exciting upcoming senior year of high school when our youth prepares for the next stage of adulthood.  I feel moments of joy on a daily basis with our good fortune to live with such a mature and thoughtful 17 year old.

My husband and I are enriched by the daily reminder that life has been extremely good to us and that ‘stuff is just stuff’.  We are fortunate to have a snack grazing pantry whenever the whim occurs. (A luxury occurring much too often with our thickening waists in our middle aged years!) Neither one of us had much growing up but we both were guided by hard working, supportive depression- era parents who provided adequate food, shelter, school access and our own clean beds. We were never perpetual guests sleeping on couches in strangers’ houses.

I expect that each host family’s experience differs on multiple levels.  Carley Cysensky and Bobby Ocasio, our Housing Specialists and the Shared Housing Services staff are inventive in customizing each family and youth’s requests for mutual satisfaction.  We know that there will be days when we must traverse living styles and values differences with our newest housemate.  I’ve had to implement ‘wart inspection’ on my own bad habits, ensuring my growth as a mentor.  However, these are only minor details if the host family and youth are mutually committed to making a long term living situation work.  We truly hope that we develop a lifelong relationship with this amazing young man.

Our teen has provided us with new purpose and companionship.  We feel compassion for his parents who are cheating themselves out of the parenting joys and tribulations by their life choices.  They are missing the wonderment of their son’s development into an exceptional young man.

We highly recommend this beneficial experience to anyone who considers making a difference in at least one youth’s life.  Do you have cobwebs in your spare bedroom?

For more information about teen homelessness in Pierce County and to find out how you can be involved in helping these youth and young adults, call Nicci Mongomery, Youth Housing Specialist at Associated Ministries, 253-383-3056 x139.

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