“Without JEMfriends, I wouldn’t have a house. Without a house, I don’t have a job. Without a job, I would end up in jail.” This is a statement that Jacob, one of our JEMyouth said to us recently. Jacob was homeless his entire senior year of high school during the winter of 2016-2017. Do you remember how many feet of snow fell that winter? While we might have been sitting next to a warm fire enjoying hot chocolate, he was homeless, even living in a tent in a friend’s back yard for a time. Amazingly, he managed to be at school just enough to complete the credits required to graduate. One of his teachers helped him stay with some of her family short-term, while she researched JEMfriends and eventually helped him apply and interview for our program.
We finally welcomed Jacob to JEMfriends in April 2017. However, when Jacob first joined JEMfriends, he was not very motivated for the program: he did not enjoy being told what to do, he did not want to go to work or school, and he did not ever want to own a car because he was too scared to drive. As he adjusted to the program though, he eventually realized that his own personal decisions, and not just doing what others told him to do, would determine his success or failure. Since that realization, Jacob has invested in the JEMfriends program and allowed the JEMfriends community to invest in him. He began meeting with his mentor consistently, attending life skills classes, and faithfully showing up for work. After fourteen months at JEMfriends, Jacob is studying to get a driver’s license, working in a full-time management position at Carl’s Jr., participating in the JEMfriends city league volleyball team, and dreaming about his future. Jacob is no longer a survivor on the streets, but a thriving, achieving nineteen-year-old!
Jacob has experienced great progress in the JEMfriends transition program, but he has also had to move three times during his participation in JEMfriends. The first move came in February this year, when we needed to move our boys out of a home where the rent was on a short-term, month-to-month basis, so that they could be in a more permanent location. We moved them to a home we were already renting, with the understanding that we would be able to re-sign a twelve-month contract. Only three weeks after moving the boys into the house, we were told that the property was going to be sold and that we had forty-five days (until April 30th) to move out. We asked for three months to arrange a purchase agreement for the home, but that was not possible. Countless hours of looking into at least fifty homes in the Boise area accomplished nothing. No one wanted to rent to JEMfriends because it would be more work to rent to us than to someone else, and because there are many other potential renters in the current rental market. On April 19th, a JEMfriends supporter contacted us about purchasing a home for JEMfriends to rent long-term. It was a miracle, but we only had eleven days before we had to move. April 28th came, and we didn’t have a house yet, but the JEMfriends community rallied to meet the need. A friend rented us an RV, and another friend let us park it at their house. We put everything from the house into a storage unit, packed the boys’ personal things into suitcases, and moved the boys into the RV for a week. They had incredibly grateful attitudes and thought of it as camping. Every day that week, they showered at my house, had rides to and from school and work, and had extra time with staff at the park. The sale on our new home, the Miracle House, closed; and JEMfriends had a new home to rent! On May 7th, our boys collected their things one more time and moved into our new home, ecstatic to be out of the RV, but very tired of moving. All three moves happened in only four months.
We want to avoid the potential for unstable housing situations in the future because it is easy for youth who have had experiences like Jacob’s to wonder if they will ever have a stable place to call home. We are earnestly looking for housing partners who are willing to let us rent long-term, so that youth like Jacob can be settled in one home while they are participating in JEMfriends. Currently, we are renting two homes that are permanently owned by JEMfriends supporters. They love us and do not ever plan to ask youth like Jacob to move out, but we need one more home to rent for Jacob and his friends. We are asking God to provide someone who wants to invest in JEMyouth, while investing in Boise’s real estate market. We are also praying for those who will give monthly support toward the rent of this third home.
Stories like Jacob’s are not uncommon. In Idaho this year, there will be thirty youth, just like Jacob, who will age out and face homelessness. The dream of JEMfriends is to work together in partnership, to provide homes where youth like these can receive support. If you are interested in partnering with us in this effort, please contact me by phone (208-863-0222) or by email (email@example.com).
Liberty Barrett, Executive Director