Many of us have fond memories of coming home at the end of a long school day. Ditching the heavy backpack, grabbing a snack and taking time to unwind before dinner and homework. But for kids facing homelessness or housing instability, the final bell may kick off an evening of couch surfing or trying to finish assignments from a shelter, camper or car. TOGETHER! offers a Host Home Program for these students, providing short-term homes with local families throughout Thurston County.

Tami Lathrop, TOGETHER! host homes program director headshot
TOGETHER! recently brought on Tami Lathrop as their new Host Homes Program Director. Photo courtesy: TOGETHER!

Longtime Olympia resident Tami Lathrop is the Host Homes program director. Despite growing up in our area, she spent the past 13 years working in child welfare for nonprofits in Seattle. “When my husband and I decided to move back to the area, I was looking for a position that supported teenaged youth and hoping that could be with a nonprofit,” she says. “It was important to find a reputable and established organization that I could align with their values. TOGETHER! was a perfect match, and Host Homes particularly spoke to my passion in amplifying youth voices and supporting community programs.”

Host Homes Give Homeless Youth a Place to Stay

Host Homes kicked off in January 2022 and is gearing up to house its first two students in August. Despite a summer start, things have been in the works for some time. “Our Executive Director, Meagan Darrow, and Deputy Director, Meghan Sullivan, started talking about the idea of having a Host Homes program in our community in 2019,” says Lathrop.

“They started having conversations with other nonprofits in the area and determined that because there are not many options like this for minors, our community especially was in need,” she explains. Initially, TOGETHER! envisioned supporting another organization to launch the Host Homes model, but after talking with many other nonprofit housing providers and concerned parties, it became clear the community wanted TOGETHER! to take the lead.  “From there they decided to pilot Host Homes because as it’s aligned with TOGETHER!’s values and mission to serve youth in our community.” TOGETHER! adopted the Host Homes model, begun by members of the LGBTQ community in Minneapolis decades ago, building their framework heavily based on the Mason County Host Homes program with their guidance as well as the guidance of Point Source Youth who aren’t local, but are leaders in Host Homes program development across the country.”

Become a Host Family for Thurston County Youth in Need

silhouette of a skateboard with one foot on the board at sunset
Host Home families are provided training and resources to make their student’s stay the best possible. Photo courtesy: TOGETHER!

Host families and student applicants can sign up at any time and homes are in desperate need, says Lathrop. You just need to live in Thurston County and pass a background check to start the process. The TOGETHER! team is happy to answer questions at any step of the process.

“Hosts go through two interviews with program staff, background clearances, and five hours of training that focuses on trauma informed care and how to support youth who identify in the LGBTQA+ community and youth of color,” explains Lathrop. “They receive ongoing support and have access to staff 24/7 if anything urgent arises outside of office hours.”

“The youth in their home will have a case manager who provides wraparound services that include advocating for students at school, assistance with signing up for a bank account, and anything that the student needs,” she says. “Our case managers have small caseloads, which means they have time to build a trusting relationship with the youth and have the ability to focus on working towards the youth’s goals: resumes, job search, understanding budgets, and applying for college.”

TOGETHER! We Can Make a Difference to Homeless Youth in Thurston County

And this case management aspect is important to help students find their feet. “Youth who experience unstable housing are 450% more likely to become unstably housed as adults, 87% more likely to drop out of school, and 40% more likely to experience violence,” explains Lathrop. “By intervening before youth experience chronic houselessness, students purse educational goals, strengthen life skills, and transition to stable independent housing, interrupting the cycle of chronic homelessness.”

a person's feet with a backpack sitting next to it
The Host Homes program matches unhoused or housing insecure high school students with host families during the school year. Photo courtesy: TOGETHER!

Their situation can spring from a variety of issues. “Youth report they are forced to leave their home due to family conflict, alcohol or drug dependance of a family member, pregnancy, rejection of sexual orientation or gender identity, or other reasons” says Lathrop. “The youth we serve are students who want to stay in their school and their community. People may assume youth seeking a host home are transient and have been in multiple living situations, often. We typically see youth who are embedded in their community and want to maintain that. They have goals and an interest to stay in school. They may have an aversion to enter a shelter, the streets, or state care and Host Homes is a way they can meet their needs without having to consider those other options.”

Even if families want to find shelter space, it’s limited in our region. “Unfortunately, there are major gaps in our county’s current service capacity for youth who are unaccompanied,” Lathrop explains. “Although some shelters exist in downtown Olympia, for many students still engaged in school but dealing with unstable housing, shelters are inaccessible and feel less safe to them than their current mobile situations. Which means that many of these youth couch surf; stay with relatives or partners; or in cars, tents, and/or on the street. A safe alternative, like Host Homes, will fill the gap for these youth who stay in unsafe situations out of necessity, experiencing trauma and difficulty staying in school, and help prevent unnecessary emergency room visits and hospitalizations common for those in a houselessness situation.”

The need for Host Homes is great, and houseless youth numbers are rising as well. North Thurston Public Schools showed an increase in homeless youth from 156to 203 from 2020-2021 to 2021-2022 and Tumwater School District High Schools went up from 71 to 99. To learn more or sign-up, email inquiries to hosthomes@watogether.org or call Tami Lathrop at 360.280.3286. Call or email to ask us when the next monthly information session is or subscribe to our newsletter for updates.

Host Homes is one of three core programs of TOGETHER!. Since 1989, TOGETHER! has been on a mission to advance the health and wellbeing of all young people. Today, their three core programs also include Community Schools wraparound supports and case management, and Club House bilingual extended day and summer programming. Their programs and operations are an extension of their values of equity, community, and systems change. TOGETHER!’s work is poised at the cutting edge of public health science and educational justice, strategically working to achieve a vision that all young people are supported, safe and valued. To learn more or support TOGETHER!, visit the TOGETHER! website, or follow them on Instagram or Facebook.


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