Andrea* attended four different high schools in just three years. In the home that Andrea lived in, an extended family member’s rental, the utilities were being cut off, the residents faced eviction and conflicts were a daily occurrence. Still, she had been able to maintain a 3.79 GPA, great grades for any student, but outstanding grades for a young woman with such a rocky life.
Then Andrea became pregnant. But instead of giving up on her goals, she added a few more. She wanted to finish up school, to get good prenatal care for her baby, and learn the skills she would need to start her family with a more positive future. But all those goals seemed pretty hard to achieve without stable housing and with a shaky support system. Couch surfing, a reality for many homeless teens like Andrea, creates a significant barrier to graduation, never mind a healthy pregnancy.
|At Project Home Indy, pregnant and parenting homeless teen girls find a healthy place to start their families.|
Homelessness and pregnancy are connected for a number of teens like Andrea. Teen pregnancy rates fell eight percent between 2010 and 2011, with just over three out of every 100 15- to 19-year-olds becoming mothers, a record low for women in this age group. Despite this promising trend, pregnant and parenting teens continue to be disproportionately affected by homelessness. One of out of every ten homeless and runaway girls is pregnant. Without adequate financial resources and medical care, pregnant teens are more likely to give birth to low-birth-weight babies, a negative indicator of infant health, and experience a high infant mortality rate.
But Andrea escaped the fate of so many other homeless teen mothers when she discovered Project Home Indy. After moving into Project Home Indy, she enrolled at a highly-ranked local charter school, found a job while she was pregnant, accessed prenatal care, graduated on time and was accepted into a special accelerated college program.
In just over a year of operation, Project Home Indy has helped several girls like Andrea make the transition from scared, homeless pregnant teens to supported new mothers. The organization provides up to five young mothers and mothers-to-be with wrap-around services that include housing and mentoring, as well as significant support in accessing health care, continuing education and finding employment. The residential facility has been supported by The Indianapolis Foundation, The Glick Fund, Women’s Fund of Central Indiana and several CICF Personal Foundations.
The Power of Home
At Project Home Indy, girls like Andrea get the chance to live in a neighborhood setting, in a house that Trinity Episcopal Church leases to the organization for $10 a year. After a $250,000 renovation, the historical building now feels like a single-family home, one that has been designed to nurture new families.
|Project Home Indy has benefited from broad community support, from the home where their residents live to the little home where their youngest residents play.|
“We have room for five girls and five babies,” says Sarah Nielson, Project Home Indy’s Program Administrator. “We often get asked if we would make a bigger Project Home Indy, with 10 or 20 beds, but we know that the real power of this place is that it feels like home. So, if we expanded, it would probably be to more homes of this size, because we know that this is what works.”
A central part of that homey feeling is the difference between life before and life after moving into Project Home Indy. The organization screens applicants to make sure that they do not have other housing options. Those who do move in truly do not have other places to go and, as a consequence, have often felt quite alone and without anyone to turn to in times of difficulty.
“We have one client who spent three hours talking to a staff member about breastfeeding,” says Neilson. “That support, whether it’s about being a mother or just having someone who can give them a ride to a job or doctor’s appointment, is so critical for our girls.”
First Year, First Successes
Project Home Indy opened in October 2011. In their first year of operation, they saw significant successes for the young women they serve – girls aged 15 to 19 who are pregnant or parenting a child aged three years or younger. The organization focuses on reversing the negative trends often associated with teen pregnancy and homelessness, including low birth weights and pre-term delivery for babies and dropping out of high school and low employment skills for their mothers.
With a combination of prenatal care, nutrition and the stability of a welcoming place to live, the outcomes for babies have been significant. All of the new mothers at Project Home Indy gave birth to babies at full-term and a healthy weight. They also increased their ability to bond with their children, building meaningful connections that are associated with infant development and reduced risk of neglect and abuse.
The young women also develop valuable life skills while at Project Home Indy. In the first year of operations, all graduation-age girls earned their diplomas. The majority of residents found jobs, and each girl who left the program with a job maintained or improved her employment after transitioning to stable outside housing. Project Home Indy residents also improved the life skills that are required for financial health, employment and structured parenting.
*To protect her privacy, we have not used Andrea’s real name.