Introduction to Housing First for Youth

Youth Choice, Youth Voice and Self-determination

This is the second core principle of HF4Y.

As a rights-based, youth-centered approach, HF4Y emphasizes choice regarding housing and supports. Choices are best made when young people are given enough information to make an informed decision about the options available to them.

Young people are involved in decisions about the kind of housing they move into, the supports they receive, when these supports start and stop, and the progress that they make. They are encouraged to be active participants in planning. When young people are actively engaged, supports and interventions become more relevant and meaningful to them. Giving choice means youth may be more accountable to follow through with plans.

Youth voice means that the ideas, opinions, and knowledge of young people must be respected and contribute to all aspects of the program. In other words, young people should be actively involved in the design and evaluation of local HF4Y programs and have the opportunity to provide ongoing and regular feedback on the supports they are receiving and what program improvements can be made.

Self-determination means that young people should have control of their own lives. They are encouraged to make decisions and learn from them. They are given opportunities to fail safely and make mistakes. Giving space for the youth to be heard builds confidence, reinforces values and increases personal ability and self-esteem.

Limits to choice

Choice doesn’t mean that youth are free to do what they want, whenever they want. It is important to be transparent with youth about what choices are available and what choices may be beyond the limits of the program.

There are two important conditions for participation in a HF4Y program:

  • Young people must agree to a weekly visit or contact with a caseworker.
  • Young people are expected to contribute up to 30% to the cost of rent from their form of income source.

Ways to apply the principle

  • Give young people a say in what services and supports they are offered.
  • Encourage youth to use a goal planning worksheet to identify goals.
  • Support young people to prepare a self-help plan for when challenges arise and create space for reflection.
  • Advocate and model self-advocacy for young people in a service system environment.
  • Embed youth voice and self-determination in policy and programming decisions.

Compared to adults, youth have fewer opportunities to exercise personal choice (e.g. where they live, who they live with) (Schwan et al., 2018). Limits to choice and self-determination are common among public systems. We must continue to give youth opportunities to speak out about their experiences and inform policies and practices that directly impact them.