Six months after running away from home, Jon had become an accomplished couch surfer. He knew what friends to call and when he had overstayed his welcome. But moving from apartment to apartment had taken a toll on his education and his health. At 17 and a senior in high school, Jon was ready to find something more safe and stable, something more like home. He wound up on the doorstep of Rose, an old family friend with an extra room. She would love to help him, she said, but she just couldn't afford the extra housing expense.
Feeling like he had nowhere left to turn, Jon went to a nearby youth shelter. Finally, he got some good news. They could help. After meeting with Rose and Jon, the agency agreed, through a formal contract, to pay Jon's room rent directly to Rose. With this living agreement, Jon has links to health care and life-skills training through the agency, has a safe and supportive place to live, and feels independent. Because he and Rose have similar cultural backgrounds, Jon feels at ease in his new home.
The living arrangement described in Jon's hypothetical scenario is called the host home model. If it sounds vaguely familiar, it may be because the model is a variation of kinship care-an informal system that many communities and societies, Native American Tribes for one, have used for years. In kinship care, extended family members take in young people who need shelter and help them in their transition to adulthood. In the host home model, the youth may or may not know his or her host home family, but the goals are the same.
For years, the Family and Youth Services Bureau (FYSB) has been supporting grantees who use the host home model to help youth in their runaway and homeless youth programs. FYSB grantees, especially those in rural areas, consider host homes a practical alternative to both short-term shelters (Basic Centers) and longerterm transitional housing (Transitional Living Programs).
"Host homes provide housing and stability," says Kreig Pinkham, director of the Vermont Coalition of Runaway and Homeless Youth Programs, where 10 out of 12 agencies use the host home model. "Here in rural Vermont, we've found the host home model to be effective because it's flexible."
Experts say that its very flexibility, especially in getting services to lowincome, resource-poor rural areas, makes the host home model a promising method of bringing shelter and stability to the lives of homeless Native American youth.
If you are considering host homes for Native American youth, below are some tips to make the living arrangement as comfortable, stable, and healthy for them as possible.
Talk with the client. When Native American youth contact an agency looking for a place to stay, Crystal Nicholson of the National Resource Center on Youth Services (NRCYS) says to "do what you would do when any kid contacts your organization: talk with them, ask them questions, ask them straight-forwardly, 'what can we do to make this transition useful to you?'"
Then, determine where they fall on the acculturation continuum. In other words, what does the youth determine his or her cultural identity to be? As Nicholson puts it, "some Native American youth are so acculturated to the mainstream that they're not interested in reconnecting with their Native American culture. It's important to respect this decision. Just be sure they know that you're willing to help them reconnect at any time."
Contact local Native American organizations. If your organization often helps youth who identify themselves as Native American, it is imperative to have a working relationship with local Native American organizations and tribal alliances. These organizations can make connecting youth with their culture and Tribe a much smoother process than going at it alone.
Forge a relationship with the young person's Tribe. Your agency should consider it its duty to facilitate an ongoing conversation with the youth and the Tribe. Yvonne Barrett, director of Ain Dah Yung youth services, recommends that agencies talk with the youth's tribal community and its leaders about the host home option.
"Find out if they support the idea of a host home arrangement for this particular youth," Barrett said. "Listen to their recommendations for how to best house the youth, reconnect them with the Tribe, and ease their way into adulthood."
Recruit and train host home families. If at all possible, recruit Native American host homes. "If kids don't understand the culture of their host, their new living arrangements can be uncomfortable and scary," explains Linda Garding, a training and technical assistance provider in North Dakota.
If it proves impossible to recruit Native American host homes in your community, hire Native American staff or contract a Native American trainer or "cultural guide" who is still connected with a Tribe to teach agency staff and host home families cultural proficiency skills.
Your agency may have a lot of clients like Jon-youth who need or already have access to a place that feels like home. Maybe your agency has a few clients who need housing, but not enough at one time to justify building a shelter. Perhaps you serve Native American youth who need additional cultural support.
For more information on host homes, please refer to the sources below or contact NCFY or the Runaway and Homeless Youth Training and Technical Assistance Centers.
Native Pathway to Adulthood: Training for Tribal and Non-Tribal Child Welfare Workers. Author: National Resource Center for Youth Services, University of Oklahoma. 2004. Available at www.nrcys.ou.edu.
The Path Before Me: Questions to Guide American Indian Youth Toward Responsible Living. Author: Kroner, M. 1997. Available from the National Resource Center for Youth Services, University of Oklahoma, www.nrcys.ou.edu.
Tribal Approaches to Transition. Author: Munsell, G. 2004. Available from the National Resource Center for Youth Services, University of Oklahoma,www.nrcys.ou.edu.