Launchpads will match young adults in the system with willing home hosts
Melinda and Ray Martin of San Anselmo, California, had been talking for a while about what more they could do to help youth who’ve had it rough coming up – well before the global pandemic battered the economy.
So, when an acquaintance of Melinda Martin told her about the Launchpads program this past summer, as protests gripped the nation in the aftermath of the George Floyd killing, the couple knew it was time to make their move. They signed up to host a young adult in San Francisco’s extended foster care in their home, as part of an innovative new Bay Area pilot program.
The timing was perfect. The Martins were going to have a spare bedroom soon, as their son would be heading off to college. They would be happy – and just a little apprehensive – to welcome a young adult between the ages of 18 and 21 into their three-bedroom home as the youth makes the transition from foster care to adulthood.
But they were very conscious of their privilege as a white, educated couple living in a wealthy suburb, they said in a recent interview. She’s a schoolteacher; he runs the craft ice cream shop they own in Fairfax. And the Martins’ home life, they knew – with a dog and a garden and chickens offering up fresh eggs, bears little resemblance to the life of most youth who come from impoverished households and have lived through multiple traumatic experiences.
The Launchpads program was in development before the world heard of the coronavirus and its deadly aftermath further imperiled foster youth’s access to jobs and stable housing. It is now
The community-hosting model is not a new concept in the human services field. Several similar programs in California are focused on finding housing for LGBTQ youth and people recently released from lockups.
Monica Balanoff, Launchpads program manager at Freedom Forward, said her donor-funded program is the only one in the country creating an online rental platform for young people in extended foster care.
Would-be tenants and would-be hosts – both of them vetted by Freedom Forward, a nonprofit that works with stakeholders to incubate innovative solutions to the problems young people face in San Francisco — can find each other online by filtering through profiles in a process that’s not unlike a dating app. The arms-length safety of using an app is designed to make the getting-to-know-you process less awkward for both parties.
Launchpads participants will use their monthly $1,000 child welfare stipend for rent and other expenses, and all the tenants must take money-management training before participating.
“Most other programs are only able to offer a small stipend to program hosts,” Balanoff said. “We believe this will make our model more scalable.”
Freedom Forward has been working closely with San Francisco County child welfare authorities to recruit young people for the program, a group whose need for housing has perhaps never been more dire.
If things go well, Launchpads aims to find transitional housing for 50 youth in the next two years and then perhaps expand beyond the Bay Area.
Development of the program and the technology involved to make housing matches is funded by the Tipping Point community foundation, a nonprofit grantmaker that supports Bay Area anti-poverty groups.
Launchpads tenants will be required to work or be enrolled in college or job training, in line with the requirements for most young adults in extended foster care. They must also agree to live by the house rules they establish with the hosts regarding kitchen privileges, chores, curfew and expectations regarding noise, company and other behavioral conditions.
The Martins said they don’t expect any tenant to be perfect. After all, the renter will be a teenager who’s been put through the ringer for their entire lives by adults who’ve so often let them down — but it’s important to the couple that the person respect some basic rules and be “accountable.”
They’ve agreed to sign a zero-to-six-month hosting agreement with an option to extend.
“We left a little bit of leeway just in case,” Melinda Martin said. “But we have faith that it will feel right to us.”
Ray Martin agreed, saying he spent years mentoring a young man in Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, and they remain in touch.
The Martins were also comforted by knowing that youth in the program must periodically check in with a case manager who will keep tabs on how the relationship is faring.
And what kind of relationship would they like with a tenant?
“It just depends on the person,” Ray Martin said. “It could be that they just come and go and we never see them. Or it could be where we become good friends, or something in between. I’d prefer to have a relationship of some sort. I love to cook; I’d love to have Sunday dinner. But whatever it is that the person needs.”