We believe any effective approach to address youth homelessness must align with the four core federal outcomes for preventing and ending youth homelessness, developed by the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness:
- Stable housing,
- Permanent connections,
- Education/employment, and
- Social-emotional well-being.
In particular, we give focused attention to facilitating “permanent connections,” which we define as “The presence of supportive adults who will provide physical and emotional support throughout the young person’s life.”
Beyond a bed: Listen to experts with lived experience
Before young people in need of housing come to the attention of social services, they often work their personal networks, identifying adults they already know who can provide a place to stay. Developing expertise in how to support these informal hosting arrangements offers the exciting possibility of catching youth earlier, before their homelessness becomes more entrenched. Working with social work professors Ande Nesmith (University of St. Thomas) and Susanna Curry (California State University, Sacramento), CloseKnit researchers interviewed both youth and adults who had created informal hosting arrangements and found that the arrangements often offer far more than a bed. The youth often speak of “the family I never had” and hosts sometimes describe the youth as a “bonus child.” We’re currently preparing our research for publication in a peer-reviewed journal: we’re unaware of any other research that has sought out the perspectives of both couch hopping youth and informal hosts.
What works? Develop host home best practices
Through our Huddles, site visits, research in the parallel fields of mentoring and foster care, conversations with national partners, and interviews with youth and their hosts, CloseKnit has identified six groundbreaking best practices that are applicable to both “stranger-match” host home programs and informal hosting arrangements between youth facing homelessness and caring adults already in their network.
Try it! Pilot practical tools to stabilize informal hosting arrangements
Working with Minnesota drop-in resource centers, Open Doors for Youth in Elk River and HOPE 4 Youth in Anoka, CloseKnit has created a practical process to help stabilize informal hosting arrangements–from the “Good Fit Questionnaire” to help determine if the youth is physically, emotionally, and sexually safe to the “Shared Expectations Hosting Agreement” that the youth, host, and service provider meet together to create and sign.
Let’s count! Develop data tools to track relationship strengths
Originally developed for youth in foster care, the Youth Connections Scale (YCS) measures the quantity and quality of a young person’s relationships with adults who can provide ongoing support. Working with the original YCS developers, Anu Family Services and the Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare at the University of Minnesota, CloseKnit is advocating that the Scale be adapted for youth experiencing homelessness. An exciting front-line tool that can help empower youth to create their own lasting support systems, the Scale is also a potential lever for system change that provides metrics and an accountability mechanism to evaluate how well agencies succeed at facilitating deep connection for youth in a supportive community.
Back to school: Capitalize on community support for students
Host home programs that provide housing specifically for students give young people a compelling incentive to stay in school; they also garner community support by producing high school graduates and future employees. CloseKnit is interested in piloting school-based host home programs in our state. For more information on this promising model, we highly recommend the excellent reports by the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth: Housing + High School = Success: Schools and Communities Uniting to House Unaccompanied Youth.
Cultivate LGBTQ-affirming efforts to address youth homelessness
To identify LGBTQ allies in conservative rural areas that could initiate or support local efforts to address youth homelessness, CloseKnit surveyed 15 “welcoming” congregations in Greater Minnesota. In conservative areas, we support efforts that affirm the sexual orientation/gender identity of all, rather than programs that would require youth to risk “outing” themselves to receive help.