Group to launch program to help homeless youth in Western Pa. |

Group to launch program to help homeless youth in Western Pa.

Stephen Huba
Tribune-Review File
A candlelight vigil is held in 2015 for the six homeless people who died on the streets of Pittsburgh that year. A pilot project that recently received grant funding will pair homeless teenagers in five southwestern Pennsylvania counties with host families for temporary housing. The Host Home Program does not include Allegheny County.

The problem of youth homelessness in Western Pennsylvania is getting renewed attention from an agency on the opposite end of the state.

Valley Youth House, based in Bethlehem, recently received $407,348 in grant funding for youth homelessness programs, including $175,460 to start a Host Home Program in four Western Pennsylvania counties – Armstrong, Indiana, Washington and Westmoreland.

Officials with the Western Pennsylvania Continuum of Care, or COC, say Butler County also will be part of the pilot project. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development distributes homelessness resources through the Continuum of Care system.

Funding for the Host Home Program comes from Home4Good, a collaborative initiative of the Federal Home Loan Bank of Pittsburgh and the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency.

“This is a brand new model for our agency, something that the federal government is really starting to go toward as an emerging model (for addressing youth homelessness),” said Emily Conners, Valley Youth House development officer.

The Host Home Program will recruit families from participating counties and train them to temporarily house young people who are at risk of homelessness. The initial target is 20 young people, and the expected average stay is five months.

“The goal is to prevent or divert youth under the age of 18 or still in school who would otherwise be homeless, unstably housed or placed into foster care,” Conners said. “We’re basically trying to prevent foster care.”

Valley Youth House is in the process of hiring two staff members — a coordinator and a housing support coach — and expects to have the program up and running in 90 days, she said.

The Lehigh Valley agency will recruit, vet and train participating families and provide case management for youth to help them maintain stable housing once they leave the program. A 24-hour hotline will provide crisis support for Host Home families.

“We’ll be there to support them every step of the way,” Conners said.

The grant also allows for the creation of a Youth Advisory Board and the operation of a point-in-time count to identify the nature and extent of youth homelessness in the 20-county region covered by the Western Pennsylvania COC.

The 2017 point-in-time count, the latest for which there are figures, identified 49 unaccompanied youth (under age 25) and 15 parenting youth in the 20 counties. The point-in-time count is an annual census of the homeless population taken by the COC on a single night in January.

Ciarra Karnes, a COC staff member, said the Host Home Program grew out of an informal collaboration between Valley Youth House and the COC that started several years ago. The COC Governing Board’s five-year strategic plan, released in 2017, identifies as a chief goal a 50 percent reduction in homelessness on the part of unaccompanied youth under the age of 25.

“When funding became available, that was one of the priority populations that we identified that needed to be served,” said Linda Thompson, co-chair of the Western Pennsylvania COC Governing Board. “We did identify that gap and that need for housing for youth populations.”

Valley Youth House and the COC hope to eventually expand the program to all 20 counties.

“The (COC) youth committee had really been pushing host homes as one of the best models out there for youth under 18, to give them that family structure,” Karnes said. “We all need a support system.”

Stephen Huba is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Stephen at 724-850-1280, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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