Short-term Host Homes Q & A
At this year's National Symposium on Solutions to End Youth Homelessness, we promised that questions for panelists would be answered online if they weren't answered in person! See below for responses to the most frequently asked questions about short-term host homes.
Q: If a youth or young adult needs one night in a host home because they are in crisis that night but that all they want, how much training does a host need to open up a bed spot?
A: We recommend a baseline of training on positive youth development, trauma-informed care, and boundaries / expectations / values with all hosts, because even short host stays can have long lasting impact on a young person’s experience of a host home program.
Q: I have heard some host home programs that appear to be high barrier. They rule out “high need” youth. How do you prioritize who gets first access to your host homes?
Each host home program has its own policies and procedures regarding referrals, and oftentimes prioritization is program and community specific. Some get referrals from their local coordinated entry systems, which have established prioritization mechanisms. Other privately run host home programs can have high barriers of entry including requirements that youth be very stable and actively searching for employment.
We find that young adults often self-select whether staying at a host home would be a good fit for them, and that training hosts in trauma-informed care and the survival strategies employed by young adults experiencing homelessness to take care of themselves (including stress reducers like smoking and drug use; building and supporting chosen families, etc) helps build empathetic, lower barrier host home options.
Q: How do HH’s preserve the autonomy of the LGBTQ guests? (esp, access to affirming care, and privacy around personal narrative)?
A: Great question! High quality, thoughtful, community-led "LGBTQ 101" training is important for hosts, and talking about what support and autonomy look like in the home (including that hosts do not have a "right" to learn about a young person's story) should be part of the training. In that space, it is important to talk specifically about what a trans-affirmative host home experience would be like, and it helps to have youth leaders involved in recruiting and training hosts, and for youth to select the hosts they want to meet based on the letters of introduction hosts right. Ideally it would be case managers or other supports in youth's lives, not hosts themselves, who are supporting youth with access to affirming mental and physical healthcare. The role of hosts is to create safe, private spaces for youth to live while working on their self-defined goals and securing longer-term housing.
Q: What trainings are hosts required to attend?
A: At Avenues for Youth, hosts are required to attend a full weekend training in addition to an application and interview process. The training covers topics like white privilege (optional for hosts of color), LGBTQ 101, trauma-informed care, and panels with youth and hosts who have participated in host home programs. At St. Ambrose Housing Aid, hosts have an eight-hour, one-day training in addition to host interview and home visit. Both trainings are facilitated by the Host Home Coordinators and community partners with expertise in the topics covered.
Q: Are service providers allowed to be host home hosts? If no, why not?
A: Although each host home program has its own policy, most allow services providers from other agencies to be hosts. Community solutions require community participation, and often hosting can be a great way for someone involved in more policy-driven or systems-driven work to stay connected to tangible, day-to-day, on-the-ground resource sharing. Potential hosts are encouraged to examine their boundaries, expectations, and self-care strategies, and youth are able to pick their host to avoid any conflicts of interest.
Q: Where does the funding for host home staff come from, or is that also volunteer-based?
A: Host home staff are paid for in a number of ways. Some local governments dedicate emergency housing funds to the establishment of host homes; others are supported by local foundations and donors; and often there is a combination of funding streams. Host homes are also an eligible transitional housing program in the TH-RRH Request for Proposals issued by HUD.
Q: Are HH hosts trained in trauma resilience and youth? What kind of support is promised to the host family and or to the youth?
A: Yes, trauma-informed care and positive youth development are critical elements of a host training! Host families and youth both have access to case management supports. One best practice of Avenues for Homeless Youth in Minneapolis is monthly home visits with the youth, host family, case manager, and Host Home Coordinator to surface any issues and have regular, ongoing dialogue. Another best practice is monthly meetings for hosts to process hosting challenges and rewards.
Q: What are optimal time commitments to ask of hosts? What are optimal amounts to compensate hosts?
A: Three to six months is an optimal time commitment to ask of short-term hosts, and one to two years as optimal time commitment to ask of long-term hosts. Compensation is very dependent on the local community and housing market. In Baltimore, for example, hosts are compensated $400/month. In San Jose, where housing costs are astronomical, hosts are compensated $800/month.
Q: Are youth within HH considered homeless in terms of the Federal Government Definition of Homelessness? Does this interfere with getting youth into permanent housing if they aren’t considered homeless anymore?
A: Host homes can be designated as emergency shelter, since they are not a permanent placement, and youth can therefore remain eligible for permanent housing. This is an important conversation to have with your local Continuum of Care.
Q: Can you talk about the expectations that potential hosts bring with them, and then paint a picture of what the daily or weekly responsibilities of a host actually are?
A: In host training, potential hosts discuss that they are not “saving” youth and that a youth’s path to secure, stable housing after their host home stay is not always linear. Many of these expectations are discussed during host trainings on trauma-informed care and positive youth development. One especially valuable component of host trainings is including young adults who have experienced homelessness as trainers. Another key component is what Avenues for Homeless Youth calls “writing the unwritten,” when host families discuss the unwritten rules, expectations, and norms in their household. Verbalizing this helps then create a platform for transparency and clarity of expectation when welcoming a guest into the home.
Q: What are the biggest barriers to growing your programs?
A: The biggest barrier to growing a host home program is that they take time, patience, and creativity! Recruiting hosts is hard work yet do-able. Thoughtful, empathetic hosts want to support youth in their communities. All of the host home programs we’ve seen develop have been slow and steady in their growth. This takes patient staff members, open communication, strong community relationships, and the ability to try and try again! This slow and steadiness is not always what funders look for so funder education is important. The time that building a host home program takes is also creating the foundation a long-lasting, scalable, community-driven and youth-centered housing option.