Establish and pilot 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 host homes programs and informal hosting arrangements.
Identify practical strategies to support informal hosting arrangements
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. Little is formally known, however, about these “couch-hopping” arrangements, which sometimes offer the youth stability and other times are precarious. In The Interview Project, CloseKnit researchers, working with University of St. Thomas social work professor Ande Nesmith, are interviewing these resourceful youth and their community hosts. Developing expertise in how to support youth-initiated hosting arrangements offers the exciting possibility of catching youth earlier, before their homelessness becomes more entrenched. We’re unaware of any other research nationally that is looking at how to bolster these informal hosting arrangements.
Develop data tools that 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 spearheading efforts to adapt the Scale 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.
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.