What is the Host Homes model?

The Host Homes model is a type of early intervention, housing-led support that is often viewed as an alternative to emergency shelters. Host Homes programs provide young people with locally-based supports, which is important since emergency shelters for youth do not exist in every community, especially those that are smaller or located in rural areas.

Two types of accommodation are common within Host Homes programs. Young people can be offered a safe space where they can either stay with an adult that they may not have previously known or a trusted family member or friend (Naidich, 1988).

What were the evaluation questions that guided the project?

The evaluation questions were co-created by the COH and RtR.

  1. How can the Host Homes model be adapted to meet the needs of diverse Canadian contexts (i.e., urban vs. rural, different geographic regions, various political climates)?
  2. How can partnerships and cross-ministerial relationships be utilized to create high leverage policy opportunities for scaling the Host Homes model across Canada?
  3. How can RtR most meaningfully support agencies in developing and implementing Host Homes programs across Canada?
  4. How do Host Homes programs fit within the Housing First for Youth (HF4Y) framework?
  5. How do Host Homes programs fit within the broader system response to youth homelessness?
  6. What are the training and technical assistance needs required to scale up the Host Homes program across Canada?

To answer these questions, we conducted a literature review, consultations with Host Homes working (which consisted of Host Homes operators from across Canada), a survey of communities to determine interest in the Host Homes model, interviews with Host Homes operators, a review of the Housing First for Youth framework, and consultations with training directors from Canada and the United States.

What were the key findings and recommendations?

Below we highlight five of the eleven key findings from the report.

1. Continue to refine the definition of the Host Homes model with youth homelessness sector leaders and young people.

A consistent theme throughout the evaluation was the need to clearly define the Host Homes model. In its most basic form, a Host Homes offers young people a safe space where they can either stay with an adult that they may not have previously known or a trusted family member or friend. This distinction between staying with an unknown host provider compared to a trusted family member or friend is important and warrants further investigation. Similarly, the Nightstop model and the Host Homes model have several overlapping features that should be further examined.

2. Consultations must occur with Indigenous communities to examine if the Host Homes model is culturally safe for Indigenous young people.

Although briefly touched upon during one of the interviews, further examination is required on the role of Host Homes programs in relation to Canada’s history of colonisation. This includes the legacy of the residential school system and the Sixties Scoop. Host Homes programs may inflict harm and trauma among young Indigenous participants if these young people are placed in non-Indigenous housing. Therefore, consultations with Indigenous organizations are required to determine if this kind of model is fit for Indigenous youth in the community. It is also important for Host Homes programs to recognize that Indigenous homelessness extends beyond a lack of physical housing and encompasses 12 different dimensions.

3. Host Homes programs need to both recognize the diversity of young people who could benefit from the program, and to develop a diversity of Host Homes providers.

The literature highlights successes in matching young people with a Host Homes provider who shares their identity, particularly for 2SLGBTQ+ youth. Interviews with Host Homes programs affirmed the importance of having diversity among Host Homes providers. The value of diverse Host Homes providers means youth are offered more choice in selecting a Host Homes, particularly a home that matches their own cultural values and beliefs. The development of diverse Host Homes providers requires programs to employ thoughtful outreach and recruitment strategies, such as engaging with Black, Indigenous, People of Colour (BIPOC) and 2SLGBTQ+ communities. Additionally, programs will need to identify barriers that may prevent BIPOC and 2SLGBTQ+ households from becoming a Host Homes provider, such as screening processes. Collaboration with diverse organizations will help Host Homes programs to address barriers to developing a diversity of Host Homes providers.

4. Host Homes programs require a significant number of partnerships to be successful including collaboration with key systems such as education, child protection and mental health.

Participants unanimously emphasized the need for Host Homes programs to be collaborative and form diverse partnerships, regardless of the size or makeup of the community. Participants expressed the successes or strengths of a Host Homes program results from strong and diverse partnerships. A high level of collaboration allows partners to strategize with one another in implementing and improving the program, for example working with local school boards to develop a cohesive referral process for school staff. Relationships with local housing, health and social service programs will enhance the capacity of Host Homes programs to support youth to meet their unique goals.

“My advice for folks thinking about starting this is to look at the relationships you already have and increase them, solidify them and through them ripple out and really connect with more and more as you go. It really does take a village...and utilize all the relationships and connections you have…”

– Key Informant

5. Host Homes programs uniquely fit within an early intervention approach to coordinated access systems.

Host Homes programs can provide two unique functions within a community’s coordinated access system. Firstly, during the triage phase, a Host Homes program may be presented as an option for young people, therein, providing an alternative to entering the shelter system. Host Homes may also be embedded in a community’s prioritization process. Communities who prioritize based on an individual’s level of support may include Host Homes as an option for youth with lower support needs, or who are placed lower on a prioritization list. During either the triage or prioritization phase, youth should have a choice in accepting or declining an offer to enter a Host Homes program.

In summary, the Host Homes model provides communities with an opportunity to divert young people from the shelter system. For Host Home programs to work, there needs to be strong partnership building and diversity of Host Homes providers. Further work is needed to measure the outcomes of Host Homes programs so that we can understand the impact of the program on young people.

For more information:


Note: This blog focuses on a recent project conducted by Hub Solutions, the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness’ (COH) social enterprise, in partnership with Raising the Roof (RtR). The project focused on strategies to scale up the Host Homes model in Canada. The project received funding from Innoweave.