Finding another way home
In Tacoma, an innovative housing program pairs young people who need homes with homeowners willing to share
Early mornings, Marquis McCrary had to walk at least 2 miles, often in the dark, to get to the bus and his three-hour round-trip commute from Spanaway to Tacoma. He was trying to earn his GED through a program called YouthBuild, which also offered him job training through a construction pre-apprenticeship program. At 21, McCrary had not finished high school. Instead he helped his single mother raise his four younger siblings.
Back in Texas, McCrary’s mom and siblings live in a shelter. McCrary moved in with his brother in Spanaway to get out of the shelter himself. He left behind his family and a community richer in activities and friends. In Texas, McCrary felt he was growing and better able to keep himself busy.
“When I got to Spanaway, it was just me and my brother,” said McCrary. “It wasn’t enough for me.”
The resources at YouthBuild somewhat eased McCrary’s frustration and sense of isolation, but the commute added new challenges. Meanwhile, the situation at his brother’s grew uncomfortable. After being homeless several nights, McCrary realized he needed to find another place to stay.
He found one after being referred to Shared Housing Services through Tacoma’s sole entry point into the housing resource system, Access Point 4 Housing.
At Shared Housing Services in Tacoma, housing specialist Bobby Ocasio connected McCrary to homeowner Christina Jarman, an accountant and loan counselor with extra space in her large, four-bedroom home in Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood.
The Host Home Program (HHP), which was launched in December 2012, matches young people experiencing homelessness with people in the community with space to spare. It provides a $400 monthly stipend to the homeowner to help with utilities, mortgage or other costs. In addition to housing, the youth gets an adult figure to provide mentorship. Partner agencies provide case management.
“Our goal is to have [homelessness] be something they are experiencing and not a title that they are going to hold and carry the rest of their lives,” Ocasio said.
HHP is innovative for Washington state. It is part of a collaborative effort called Housing 4 Success that offers two other housing tracks for young people experiencing homelessness: independent housing in apartments and shared housing for students in the Bethel School District. HHP housed 40 individuals under the age of 24 during its first year.
McCrary’s host, Jarman, works for the Homeownership Center of Tacoma. She said she had the idea of sharing her extra space before she even bought the home. Shortly after moving in, she became involved in Shared Housing Services’ adult homesharing program, which serves as the model for the HHP.
Jarman had two adult housemates before McCrary and remains friends with them. She said she’s benefitted from sharing her home with others.
“In every situation, I’ve grown. Yeah, I’ve opened my door and made the facilities available, but I’ve learned in return,” Jarman said.
The historic house was built in 1905 and previously belonged to an Italian immigrant family, who also owned the two adjacent lots. Jarman has three grown children, one of whom used to rent the house next door and one of whom currently lives in the house with his wife and their five children. The family has continued this sort of communal living, affectionately referring to the space as the “Jarman Compound.”
Ocasio said Jarman is an ideal home provider for the program.
“She works in the community, and she has connections in the community. We ask our housing providers to be mentors and model these good behaviors, and those are all things she already does,” said Ocasio. “Marquis can see this, and Marquis can follow that if he chooses to. Or he’ll just see a good example of what healthy adults do every day. That’s really the goal of our program and the mentorship part of it.”
Jarman said she strives to promote independence.
“I’ve already raised my kids,” Jarman said. “I’m not your mother. We’re housemates. So you help and I help, and we keep the house going.”
In addition to integrating into the household, McCrary has taken advantage of his new location to further his goals. He got his GED through YouthBuild in December 2013 and is now planning to attend Bates Technical College in the Broadcasting and Audio/Visual Production program. He can walk to many other local places like Dash Center for the Arts and Fabitat, which offers a creative space for artistic expression and education.
Music and the spoken word are McCrary’s passions, and he has found opportunity for them in Tacoma. He performs at B Sharp Coffee House in Opera Alley and has been a disc jockey on KUPS 90.1 FM, the University of Puget Sound’s student radio station. He writes poetry, and he has worked with Tacoma’s 2013-2015 poet laureate Lucas Smiraldo. McCrary is also developing a music video associated with a local film about a fictional rapper growing up homeless. Grand Marquis, McCrary’s rapper identity, has become an active presence in the Tacoma community.
“I haven’t seen him in a couple months, and I’m amazed by what he’s doing,” Ocasio said. “The ultimate goal is self-sufficiency. So, him going to Bates and being able to get a degree or get skills and get a job, a good-paying job after he’s on his own: He’s on his way.”
McCrary has more specific plans, including moving back to Texas, interning at a record label in Austin and taking in his younger brothers, once he is established. And, of course, he’d like to own a Grand Marquis someday.
At the moment, he is grateful for his surroundings.
“It is truly a blessing to be here,” he said.
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