Host Homes for Native American Youth: Finding a Future in Tribal Traditions

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

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,

Tribal Approaches to Transition. Author: Munsell, G. 2004. Available from the National Resource Center for Youth Services, University of Oklahoma,


There's No Place Like a Host Home

Host homes benefit...

The youth-serving agency:

  • The model is a flexible housing alternative for youth-serving agencies that have little money to build or maintain basic shelters.
  • Host homes provide practical residences for agencies in rural areas, where apartment buildings for transitional living programs are scarce.

The host home family:

  • Host homes allow adults to be role models to the youth they house, ensuring that the next generation has the skills to become successful.
  • The agency pays the host family for room rental and partial utilities - a welcome support to families who may already be caring for the youth.

The youth:

  • Youth continue to be part of a home, where they can maintain a sense of belonging and pick up critical life skills.
  • The host home model provides youth with an ongoing connection to the youth agency, which in turn provides linkages to and support from other services, like health care, job training, and mental health counseling.

Youth may reap other unforeseen benefits of living with a family. For example, host home families may help youth with transportation to jobs or to school-a fringe benefit that is especially important in rural areas.

Native American youth, in particular:

  • The host home model could prove comfortable for Native American youth because it is based on kinship care, a system used by many Tribes.
  • If host home family members are Native American, they can help Native American youth connect with their culture.
  • The youth-serving agency can provide linkages to a youth's Tribe, reservation, and culture.

Things to Remember When Working With Native Youth

When working with homeless or in-transition Native American youth, remember:

All Native American youth are not the same.

  • Some are highly acculturated to mainstream society; others may not be.
  • Some want to maintain a strong connection with their Tribal culture; others may not.

All Tribes are not the same.

  • They have different rituals, languages, and ceremonies. They are different cultures.
  • Native American youth may have different cultural needs. Offer services like health care, counseling, and life skills curricula that incorporate Native American norms and values.
  • Native American people have natural supports. Tribes often have strong spiritual leaders (elders) and a heightened sense of community. Work with these strengths.

Getting Started: Creating a Host Home Program for Native Youth

Would Native youth in your community benefit from a host home program? 

Some ideas for getting started:

1. Find out who is already working with at-risk, homeless, or transitional youth in your community or in nearby towns.

  • Search the online database for youth programs in your area.
  • Contact your State or local agency responsible for youth programming, the police department, or child welfare agencies for programs they recommend.
  • Search for FYSB grantee agencies in your area.

2. Contact existing service providers.

  • It may be easier to fund a fledgling Native host home program by teaming up with an existing service provider in a nearby town or urban area. Together, you can develop proposals that include a satellite office and a few host homes in an outlying, Tribal area.

3. Cast a wide funding net.

  • The Council on Foundations provides a searchable database of community foundations across the country at Community foundations fund a diverse array of programs that address the issues impacting the local communities where they operate.
  • The Foundation Center offers a searchable database of foundations at This paid service searches for funding opportunities among thousands of private and corporate foundations.
  • The National Clearinghouse on Families & Youth can advise you on how to find targeted funding for your program. Call (301) 608-8098.