What is a Host Home?

written by naehblog
August 29, 2013

Today’s blog post was written by Jessica Clark of Youth Advocates of Sitka, Elliot Kennedy of the Trevor Projec, Deborah Loon of Avenues for Homeless Youth, and Edward SanFilippo, economic development policy fellow with the Alliance.

What a difference a year makes.

Last summer, homeless assistance providers around the country completed the Rural Youth Survey for the Alliance. One of the questions on the survey asked whether providers were using host homes to shelter homeless youth. For those of you who haven’t heard of the Host Homes model, you’re not alone – only a small percentage of respondents reported that they used host homes for youth experiencing homelessness in their communities.

Host homes are an arrangement between a community member and a service provider in which the community member provides homeless youth with shelter, food, and sometimes transportation, while the service provider provides program coordination, host support, and case management services. While the concept is still far from well known, awareness of the model has grown dramatically in the homeless youth assistance world.

The Alliance’s conference this year included an entire workshop devoted to host homes and the room was full of conference attendees eager to learn more. Here’s what we learned:

Host Homes Are Flexible

Host homes can be used as both emergency shelter and longer-term transition-like housing, depending on the needs of the particular community. This means that host homes are flexible enough to work anywhere. During the workshop. Deborah Loon, who leads Avenues for Homeless Youth, described how her organization has coordinated both urban and suburban models in Minnesota. Jessica Clark works with Youth Advocates of Sitka in Sitka, which is about as isolated as you can image – the small community is located on an island off the southeast coast of Alaska.

Host Homes Are Economical

Instead of relying on expensive shelters or housing, host homes rely on a community’s strongest resource – its people. In Minnesota, hosts receive extensive training and support, but no compensation. Resource families, as they’re called in Sitka, receive stipends in addition to training and support, in order to compensate for the loss of income they would have generated from renting out the space on the private market. Program costs include overall coordination, host recruitment, host support, and youth case management.

Host Homes are Good for Communities

Hosting provides stability for youth beyond just shelter; it can also help youth build the kind of long-term relationships with caring adults that allow them to grow personally, seek employment, complete educational goals, and transition more successfully into adulthood. For the hosts, the experience can be equally transformative. One provider described how a set of hosts fully integrated a youth into their family, supporting her through her college graduation.

Elliot Kennedy, from the Trevor Project, reminded us, the longer a youth spends on the streets, the greater the risk that they attempt suicide. Communities that open their homes and hearts can help avoid that outcome.