Strengthening the Village

Putting chosen family, kin, and natural supports at the heart of strategies to prevent and address youth homelessness

When youth walk through the doors of a homeless service organization, they often carry histories of family disruption and disconnection. But behind them exists a network of relationships with related family, chosen family, friends, mentors, and other natural supports. The care and connection that family, kin, and other natural supports can provide are critical to youth well-being. Some of these people also directly respond to youth housing instability by informally sharing their housing.  

However, community capacity to care for and stably house youth can be limited by structural forces and racial inequities. In particular, Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) have been systematically excluded from housing and economic opportunity. These structural inequalities are part of the story of why youth of color are more at risk of housing instability. But it also means that BIPOC-headed households are more likely than White-headed households to face financial barriers to providing mutual aid and may put their own housing stability at risk when they offer youth hospitality. 

Policy and public systems have played a role in wearing down communities’ social safety nets. It’s time to work differently, by recognizing and resourcing the power of community interdependence, especially in communities of color. This means designing policies and programs to build permanent connections and, when appropriate, stabilize positive informal shared housing—strengthening the village of support youth need to thrive. 

“Creating Home in Community” (Report)

Youth experiencing homelessness often have supportive kin, chosen family, mentors, or other caring adults in their lives. Sometimes these supports give youth a safe place to stay. But even when informal shared housing is otherwise safe and comfortable, it can be unstable. Youth homeless services and prevention programs are seldom designed to help youth and informal hosts work toward stability. Similarly, renter protections and public benefits policies currently fail to address the barriers faced by renters who host. 

This report elevates the positive potential of informal shared housing with kin and chosen family. We present current evidence on benefits, risks, and barriers in these arrangements, and possible paths forward.

Creating Home in Community (report) 

“Defining Permanent Connections to Center and Strengthen Informal Supports” (Policy Brief)

In 2017, the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness identified “permanent connections” as one of the four federal outcomes for addressing youth homelessness, alongside stable housing, social and emotional well-being, and employment or education. However, federal agencies currently use different definitions of who and what counts as a permanent connection. 

In this policy brief we make the case that federal agencies should establish a shared definition of permanent connections with a focus on supportive informal and intergenerational relationships.

Defining Permanent Connections to Center and Strengthen Informal Supports (policy brief)

“Building the Host Home Model around Chosen Family and Kin” (Practice Brief)

Host home programs partner with community members who provide housing for a young person at risk of or experiencing homelessness. Most host home programs currently recruit volunteer hosts who are paired with youth they don’t know, sometimes called “stranger-match” hosting. But some programs work with youth who are already staying with an informal host or have youth identify potential hosts from their existing support network. 

This practice brief summarizes the differences between these two approaches to the host home model and the potential benefits of chosen family or kinship hosting. 

Building Host Homes around Formal Family and Kin (practice brief)