WANTED: Genuinely Nice People Who Care About Youth
1 member recommended this.
Click here to recommend.
1 member recommended this.
Click here to recommend.
Among youth who are homeless, roughly 20% identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender (GLBT). These youth are at a disproportionately high risk of physical assault, sexual exploitation, suicide, and substance use. The GLBT Host Home is a grassroots program in Minnesota. The program recruits, screens, trains, and supports adults to be host families for GLBT youth in need of safe and stable housing.
“The GLBT Host Home Program is fairly magical. It is community-owned, grassroots, intimate, and small. It is not an institution,” explains program director Rocki Simoes. The GLBT Host Home is a grassroots program in Minnesota. The program recruits, screens, trains, and supports adults who open their homes to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) youth ages 16-21 in need of safe and stable housing.
“The number one reason that GLBT youth become homeless is family conflict,” explains Rocki. In the mid-1990s, Rocki and others in her community started talking about the overrepresentation of GLBT youth in the youth homeless population. In the mid-90s, Youth Link, also in Minneapolis, hired the first GLBT youth case manager to work closely with this vulnerable population. Then came the idea to create a host home program for GLBT youth experiencing homelessness. Youth advocates posed the question: ‘Can we go to the GLBT community and ask people to open their homes to youth in need?’
A feasibility study was conducted and Youth Link offered funding. In 1997, Rocki was hired to spearhead this project. Today the GLBT Host Home is a project of Avenues for Homeless Youth, and is supported by an all-volunteer Advisory Council. Rocki and the Advisory Council work to educate the community, conduct screenings and training for potential host home participants, and recruit GLBT and GLBT-friendly community members to volunteer as hosts.
The Host Home program is connected to a 15-bed shelter for youth through its relationship with Avenues For Homeless Youth. Yet, Host Home operates independently and has room to develop creative solutions and engage a larger community.
Many studies show that GLBT youth run away from home at higher rates than their heterosexual peers, and are more likely to receive social services, which includes foster care. Studies also indicate that foster parents are more likely to request that GLBT youth be moved out of a home, due to misperceptions about the implications of sexual orientation.
GLBT Host Home Program differs from the foster care system in two significant ways. Hosts are unpaid volunteers who open their homes to youth in need. Many youth who have left the foster care system share that because their foster families were given monetary compensation, the homes never felt like a home. “Young people love the fact that hosts are volunteers,” shares Rocki. She explains that one of the drawbacks to this approach is that hosts must be able to absorb financial costs of hosting a young person. This can be a barrier for some potential hosts.
The second difference is youth choice. Many youth have shared that they were placed by social workers in foster families, but were given little information about the family. “My foster family knew everything about me, but I knew absolutely nothing about them,” shared one youth. Hosts are asked to write letters to youth participants describing themselves and why they want to be a host. Youth are given the option to meet the prospective hosts. “Youth get to choose where they go. Usually, I only have a maximum of three choices and a minimum of one. This is a drawback to a small program,” says Rocki.
The criteria for becoming a host home includes thirteen requirements, including space in the home, tenure of residency in the Twin Cities, geographical location, references, homeowners’ insurance, and background checks. Some of the more nuanced requirements make this program unique. For example, one requirement is to: “Be a nice person who genuinely cares about young people’s lives.” Additionally, hosts must go through an intensive interview process, 14 hours of training, and “still be a nice person after all of this.”
An initial informational interview is followed by an interview with Rocki and an Advisory Council member. Then, a potential host interviews with Rocki again, as well as a youth participant. Next is the 14 hour training, which brings to light many issues. Some people realize they are not ready for this type of commitment. “The relationship piece is the hardest part. Hosts have to learn how to share living space. This requires an entirely different level of self-awareness. Sometimes potential hosts are not even aware of the unwritten rules they live by. Often the young people who we are working with have survival skills that may not be pretty. They are skills that kept the youth alive and may take time to unlearn.”
The 14-hour training for potential host home families is thorough. It includes:
In addition, there is time for the youth and host home families come together to talk and listen. “Youth get up and share their stories. This gives host home applicants the opportunity to see that that this is not an issue; this is a person,” explains Rocki.
- Training about homelessness among GLBT youth;
- Therapeutic exercises for adult hosts to examine assumptions, issues, and triggers; and
- Sensitivity training about race and sexual orientation.
Once youth have selected a host home and it has been approved, the program provides support groups for youth and hosts, as well as home visits. Host home stays range from two months to two years. Medical, therapeutic, goal setting, and case management services are provided to youth through outside organizations, while host home families help to build positive relationships. Ultimately, the goal is to give youth a supportive home where he or she is accepted and nurtured by caring adults.
Rocki explains that they have intentionally kept the program very small to prevent institutionalization. A committed group of volunteers has intentionally created a model that is vastly different from the foster care system. They are eager to help other communities replicate the model. With the support of the host home team, a new program is under development in Chicago. Rocki emphasizes that the host home model fills an important niche. “We only work with youth for whom the system has failed. For GLBT youth, foster care is not always a great system.”
To learn more about resources related to LBGTQI2-S youth who are homeless, visit the HRC LBGTQI2-S Youth Topic Page
Check out the "Related Items" to the right of the screen.
Type of Resource: