Respite Accommodation and Host Homes

The goal of respite accommodation is to provide young people with emergency supports as an alternative to the shelter system. Shelter diversion is considered to be important for people at imminent risk of homelessness, and in particular young people. Providing young people with safe, appropriate and short term shelter and supports within their own communities is seen as a means of ensuring that they do not become drawn into the street youth lifestyle, and/or to protect them from sexual and economic exploitation that often comes with the street youth lifestyle. Respite accommodation has been experimented with and implemented in several communities in the UK (sometimes referred to as ‘Time Out’ housing) and is becoming more popular in the North America through Host Home programs. It is considered particularly appropriate for young people under the age of 18, in that it helps young people stay connected to natural supports in their communities and gives young people a break from their family, or temporary shelter while looking for a place to stay, and also helps young people avoid getting caught up in street youth culture. The actual service delivery model and approach to accommodation can take different forms – it can involve small, purpose-built facilities (similar in some ways to shelters), but more often, young people will be placed in households that have a spare room. In some cases, the hosts are volunteers, in other cases, they are paid.

The development of respite accommodation stems from the knowledge that young people sometimes become homeless because an unresolved family conflict can erupt into a crisis. Temperatures rise, angry words are said, and parents ask the young person to leave or conversely, the youth makes the decision to leave home. In such cases (and in particular where there may be family conflict, but no history of physical, sexual or emotional abuse) a ‘time out’ space is needed, where young people and their families can work on repairing relations so that the youth can return home, or conversely, provides them with accommodation while they work out longer-term housing support. Respite accommodation, then, is designed to provide:

“safe, high quality accommodation for a short period of time to give them and their families a ‘breather’, and provide a supportive environment for all parties to rebuild their emotional resilience and renegotiate relationships”.

When in respite housing, young people are typically provided with night clothing and two meals a day. After the first night’s stay, youth are offered case management support by a local agency, where they work on plans that include family reconnection (and potentially mediation), as well as life skills. In order to ensure the safety and effectiveness of respite programs involving stays in private homes, there are robust recruitment and placement procedures. Host families are trained and supported, and the program operates with an established Quality Standards Assessment in place.

St. Basil’s “Time Out” project in Birmingham (UK) makes use of one of their housing units to provide young people with a place to stay, usually for a period of two weeks. During that time, they get ten hours of support each week from a staff member, and engage in family mediation. An evaluation of this program identified that 78% of young people returned home after two weeks, reported in this study. As one program manager explains:

“Our focus is to assist young people who present with crisis housing need as a result of family conflict an opportunity to spend some time away from the family home – a period of two weeks to not only learn life skills and independent living skills but also to engage in mediation with their parents or caregiver which is very much focused on them returning home in a planned and safe way. After the two weeks stay with us, ultimately our goal is for them to return home, but if not it is to ensure that they have thought through planning the process of moving out of the family home. ” (Marsha Blake, Prevention Services manager).

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Depaul UK operates 40 Nightstop services throughout the United Kingdom, working with over 500 volunteer hosts. Young people aged 16-25 are able to stay with an adult or family for up to twenty one days.

“Nightstop provides an opportunity for a young person who is homeless to stay with a volunteer, in their home, whilst family reconciliation work is undertaken and/or more settled accommodation secured. Young people are given their own room, a toiletry pack and can have their clothes washed if needed. They are also given an evening meal and breakfast. They are normally asked to vacate the host’s property during the day; at what time is a decision for the individual hosts.” (from page 7 of Insley's report)

Depaul did an extensive evaluation of the Nightstop program, which in 2010 provided 8166 bed nights for 2033 young people, most of whom were fleeing family conflict and/or were thrown out of their homes. While many of the young people who came in to the program were ‘couch surfing’ directly prior, 11% were sleeping rough (absolutely homeless). In terms of housing outcomes after staying at Nightstop, 21% returned to their families, 36% moved into supported housing, 14% obtained private accommodation, 11% moved into social housing, and 14% moved in with a friend.

For more information, see Emma Insley's 2011 report Staying Safe: An Evaluation of Nightstop Services

In North America, Host Home programs have been implemented in many jurisdictions. The State of Minnesota has developed Host Home programs in many areas of the state and significantly, in the Twin Cities they have a program targeting LGBTTQ youth. It is a particularly effective model in rural areas, especially those that lack emergency shelters, because it allows young people to stay in their community. In the area surrounding Brainerd, Minnesota, for instance, Lutheran Social Services have recruited and trained many adults to provide Host Homes. When a young person becomes homeless, they are matched up with adults or families (who are paid a small stipend). A youth worker usually meets with the youth and the host the first night, in order to help the young person settle in, and begin the process of determining next steps. In the context of family conflict they negotiate a ‘cooling off’ period; although the family is informed the next day that the young person is in a host home the whereabouts of the home is not disclosed. The next steps can include family reconnection or efforts to help the young person find appropriate accommodations and supports.

In Canada, there is a host home program for youth in the Halton region of Ontario operated by Bridging the Gap. Like other host home programs, it is considered a home-based alternative to emergency shelters, and there is a program operating in each major community in the region (Burlington, Oakville, Milton, Georgetown & Acton). The goal of Bridging the Gap’s Host Home program is to assist youth in achieving their personal goals while maintaining a connection to their community. Access to the program is made through contacting a Bridging the Gap worker. Young people are assessed and those who are approved for the program can stay for up to four months. They receive a private sleeping area, and have access to a shower, laundry facilities, and meals. A condition of staying is that young people agree to abide by curfews and more generally the house rules set by the provider. Youth are pre-screened for current addiction or mental health crisis, and may be referred to more appropriate shelter programs if this is considered to be a better a better option.

FROM: Gaetz, S. (2014). Coming of Age - Reimagining the Response to Youth Homelessness in Canada. Homeless Hub Research Report Series.