Housing First for Youth Service Delivery Model

Working with Young People

There are specific approaches for working with young people in HF4Y programs that will help case managers support youth who are at risk of or experiencing homelessness. 

HF4Y programs follow a positive youth development (PYD) approach. PYD was described in Part 2 of this training series in the sections on HF4Y core principles and philosophy. YouthPower, an international youth development organization, suggests that strong youth programs require an enabling environment. As a component of their Positive Youth Development framework, an enabling environment is one where:

Youth are surrounded by an environment that develops and supports their assets, agency, access to services, and opportunities, and strengthens their ability to avoid risks and to stay safe, secure, and be protected and live without fear of violence or retribution. An enabling environment encourages and recognizes youth, while promoting their social and emotional competence to thrive. The term “environment” should be interpreted broadly and includes: social (e.g., relationships with peers and adults), normative (e.g., attitudes, norms and beliefs), structural (e.g., laws, policies, programs services, and systems) and physical (e.g., safe, supportive spaces).

A positive youth development approach seeks to develop resiliency and core characteristics in young people so that they can fulfill their hopes and dreams for the future. The graphic below highlights important characteristics of resilient individuals including social and emotional connectedness, sense of agency and persistence.

Resilient Individuals

Fig. 1. Resilience & Core Character Competencies Framework

See the complete framework document here.

Hammond (2012) identified essential traits of adults who nurture core character competencies in young people. Significant adults, which might be a HF4Y case manager, have the following traits:

  • They are empathetic
  • They communicate effectively and listen actively
  • They understand the need to change “negative scripts”
  • They care in ways that youth feel special and appreciated
  • They accept youth for who they are and help them to set realistic expectations and goals
  • They help youth experience success by identifying and reinforcing their “islands of competence”
  • They help youth realize that mistakes are experiences from which to learn
  • They support the development of responsibility, compassion and a social conscience by providing youth with opportunities to contribute
  • They teach youth to solve problems and make decisions
  • They set boundaries and expectations in ways that promotes self-discipline and self-worth

Trauma-informed Care

Because many young people are exposed to traumatic events (e.g., physical, mental, and emotional abuse; neglect; etc.), either prior to becoming homeless or once they are homeless (e.g., exploitation and criminal victimization), a HF4Y program must be grounded in a culture of trauma-informed care.

Trauma can be overwhelming, leading to addictions, sexual risk taking and the inability to move forward with one’s life.

The experience of trauma at any age can impact cognitive and emotional development; decision-making; mood and emotional regulation of stress, anger, and aggression; as well as motivation, stress response, and physical health and illness. A trauma-informed approach means acknowledging the existence of trauma and that recovery and support must be part of how we work with young people.

Trauma-informed approaches are recommended for all staff in youth-serving organizations including leadership and administrative staff. Trauma-informed care must be consistently reinforced through regular training, supervision, and practice throughout the entire organization. A trauma-informed approach means recognizing the predominance of trauma among youth who are at risk or experiencing homelessness. It is also important to review and revise policies or procedures or that have the potentially to be triggering or re-traumatizing. Check out the collection of resources on trauma informed care to learn more.

Trauma Informed Starts with You video

Dr. Jacob Ham, PhD, describes using a hospitality mindset to respond to trauma reactiveness in the moment.

Harm Reduction Approach

For many young people experiencing homelessness or who are at risk of experiencing homelessness, substance use is a means of coping with their circumstances (i.e. violence, poverty, past trauma). A harm reduction approach reduces the judgement and stigma that youth may feel from workers. With harm reduction, as with all of HF4Y, the main point is to meet young people where they are at. It is worth noting that this is challenging work and ongoing training and support for staff should be provided.

A Harm reduction approach means recognizing that abstinence may not be a realistic or desired goal for some users (especially in the short term). For young people who use substances who are unable or unwilling to stop, the main focus is on reducing harm while use continues (Gaetz, 2015). Abstinence requirements create additional barriers for people seeking services. For young people who have experienced trauma, expectations of abstinence are unfair and unrealistic and may encourage use of substances in other places (Gaetz, 2018).