‘They’re very friendly’: Markham couple opens home for youths struggling with housing
360°kids seeks community hosts for emergency accommodation Nightstop program
Irene Wong | Markham Economist & Sun
While a cold blizzard was approaching the GTA just before Christmas Eve, Bahram and Mitra Jam received a message from 360°kids that a youth might need emergency accommodation in their Thornhill home.
The couple had no hesitation in receiving the stranger, although it was a festive day for the family. They have been involved in 360°kids’ Nightstop program for two years. This is an emergency accommodation service that links young people in crisis with volunteer hosts who accommodate the youths in their own homes.
When Mitra saw the advertisement about the program at community centre in 2020, she asked her husband, Bahram, if he was willing to participate.
“Why not?” Bahram repeated the same answer in the warm, cosy living room that welcomes the youth and it’s where — if they choose — they can sit down and spend some time with the host family.
“That’s a great idea. I didn’t think that York region would have much of a need for this because I thought York region is a wealthy neighbourhood. I was surprised that there’s even a need for a temporary shelter.” said Bahram, who gave his nod without hesitation.
“Why not? If you say, ‘I’m afraid.’ Afraid of what? There’s never been an incidence of anything to our knowledge. Why not? Because it costs money? 360°kids will pay $20 or something for their food in one day. It doesn’t cost you any money. There’s no extra heating bill. There’s no extra water.”
To be evaluated as hosts, their home was inspected for safety. The couple and their family members have received training from 360°kids to ensure they are prepared to host. They were also required to get a vulnerable sector police record check from York Regional Police.
Mitra showed the bright room with big windows prepared for the youths. The bed, the wardrobe, the washroom … everything was simple but pleasant. Mitra put daily necessities for youths, supplied by the program, neatly in the drawers. There was a “Welcome to the Jam Family Home” note on the dresser.
Mitra said being a host family for two years, during the pandemic, has been a wonderful experience.
“Every child we have, they come, they talk with us. They’re very friendly. They’re very open. It’s wonderful. I feed them dinner. I give them breakfast. They leave by 8:30 in the morning. And if they’re staying again that night, I pack them lunch and they come home for dinner that same night.”
She said “no judging” is very important in receiving the young people. “When the kids are here, sometimes you can see that they may have experienced something really, really difficult for them.”
“A young lady who was the same age as my middle child, was so determined and already had planned her life. Every kid I’ve seen so far are looking forward to a positive future to improve themselves,” Mitra said with tears, deeply impressed by the youth she has taken in.
Currently, 360°kids has seven host families and five volunteer drivers who are part of the program.
Djam Nuriev is a 360°kids youth worker from Markham who has been actively looking for volunteers. “This is a helpful alternative to using a shelter as those could sometimes be unsafe or intimidating,” states a post by Nuriev on Reddit.
According to Nuriev, there were 318 youth referrals and 876 bed nights provided since inception of the program in 2017.
In 2022, about a quarter of the youths referred to the program were 16-17 years of age. One fifth of them were part of the 2SLGBTQ+ community. About two-thirds of those were in school or employed.
Mostly, the youths were placed in Nightstop due to family fallout and mental health challenges. The benefit of community hosting is that the youths’ daily routine is least likely to be disrupted. They can continue going to school, attending part-time jobs in their community.
To learn more about Nightstop program and how you can become a volunteer host, visit 360kids.