When a traditional emergency housing shelter isn't the right fit for a youth at risk of homelessness, 360°kids has an alternative to offer: the Nightstop program.
"Maybe the traditional emergency housing program route isn't necessarily for them or maybe they're in between housing, so they don't necessarily need a shelter stay," said Tally Fahmy, the program manager.
He said to fill that gap, 360°kids — which is a Richmond Hill-based organization addressing youth homelessness in York Region — partnered with an organization in the U.K. called Depaul, which started this kind of Nightstop program.
"It searches for volunteer hosts who wanted to help young people over a span of a couple of days, a couple of nights or so until their into their that next housing program or maybe there's youth who need a few days away from their family and then we help to work on reintegrating them with their family," Fahmy said.
360°kids became accredited by Depaul to run the program in 2017 and now offers it across York Region, including Newmarket.
Host Kirk Schuller, who lives in Pefferlaw, in Georgina, was already aware of 360°kids when he contacted them one day to get a better understanding of what they did and said it sparked his interest even more.
"We just decided as a family we wanted to do something more and reached out to them," Schuller said.
With room to spare in their home, the family was a good fit for the program.
"We have an extra room in my basement where my parents or my wife's parents were using when they visited. Other than that, it was largely empty. So we had a we had a room, why not use it?" he said.
After a couple of months of checks and vetting, Schuller's family became Nightstop hosts in January 2019. Since then, they have had five or six youths stay with them, one of whom had an extended stay for about three weeks, he said.
"We've had some very positive experiences and we've had one or two that have been somewhat negative," he said, adding that in one case they had a youth who wasn't the most tidy, while in another, he said the youth just didn't want to be there and they didn't click.
However, Schuller said largely their experiences as Nightstop hosts have been "very rewarding."
"Another youth that stayed with us just for a weekend, I remember came in very tired but by the end of the weekend, we could tell the person was very positive," he said.
There is a vetting process in place to protect both the hosts and youth in the program. Fahmy said on the host side, there is extensive intake in which they are evaluated as hosts, their home is inspected for safety, there's a reference check and they are put through a rigorous training. They are also required to get a vulnerable sector police record check from York Regional Police.
For guests, the intake process is the same one used in the original program by Depaul. It involves a referral, a comprehensive risk assessment, and reference check before the Nightstop team decides if the youth is a good fit for the program.
"In terms of ensuring that works out for both sides, we bring them in for training into our own facility so we know all the hosts and because 360°kids offers wraparound services to youth, a majority of the time the youth that we are referring or placing in the volunteer host home is not a youth that we've just met. So we've either met them in our drop in centre, in our employment programs, in our counselling programs, in our youth outreach program," Fahmy said.
A Nightstop is beneficial as there aren't a lot of youth-specific emergency housing programs in the Greater Toronto Area and the vast majority of them have waitlists, Fahmy said. Another benefit is it can limit the disruptions to youth by trying to keep them in their community.
"Ideally what we would like to do is if a youth is from Newmarket, we would like to place them with a host family in Newmarket as well because we don't want to disrupt their daily routine, right, like we want them to go to school. We want them to participate in extracurriculars if that's what they've got going on or attend their part-time job.
"They're going through a turbulent time. They're going through a challenging time. So we want we want their participation in our programs to be as therapeutic as possible. And part of that is that we don't disrupt what what they have going on in their lives that's working for them," he said.
The Nightstop program is actively looking for volunteers who have a spare bedroom and a willingness to provide a temporary place to stay for a youth in need. Fahmy said the hosts are volunteers but receive a stipend to cover costs. All the criteria and information is on 360°kids website.
As an experienced host, Schuller said his advice for any prospective program volunteers is to prepare for the work involved.
"It does take some effort. There are some awkward moments when [the youth] arrives. It's like getting to know somebody and figuring out what they have interests in, what their personal preferences are and really you have to be accommodating," he said. "That's your role, to accommodate that youth and do your best to make them comfortable because they're coming from a position where they're not comfortable."