Meeting the Housing Needs of Young Adults with Behavioral Health Challenges

Imagine being 18 years old, or even 25, and having no place to call home. For a young person with few or ruptured ties to family and community, a roof overhead is simply not enough. A growing body of neuroscientific evidence confirms what we have long known intuitively, that brain development and the associated features of reasoning, judgment, regulation of emotion and impulse develop gradually and continue to develop well through the mid-twenties.1 We also know that trauma and disconnection from supportive networks significantly reduces the chance that a young person will make a successful transition to adulthood.

Putting this knowledge to work, however, requires that we think and act across agencies and across the divide that generally exists between the child and adolescent service system and the adult system of care. For most young people lucky enough to have experienced normal social and emotional development, the nature of the supports available to them doesn’t abruptly change on the day of their 18th or 21st birthday. This is not the case for many adolescents and young adults who are ageing out of foster care, reentering the community after being incarcerated or who have returned home following years of care in a residential treatment facility. These young people face not only the usual challenges and bumps along the path to adulthood, but frequently do so with less social capital, fewer skills in independent living and a whole new cast of social service providers, who may be unaccustomed to providing the degree of guidance and support still needed by young adults.

“More Than A Roof Over Their Heads: A Toolkit for Guiding Transition Age Young Adults to Long-term Housing Success,” 2 authored by Nina Aledort, formerly of the NYC Administration for Children’s Services, Jim Bolas of the Empire State Coalition of Youth and Family Services, and Susan Grundberg and Yusyin Hsin of the Mental Health Association of New York City, is an invaluable guide to understanding the ever changing developmental needs of young adults and effective strategies for transitioning young adults between youth and adult systems. The toolkit is a product of the Young Adult Housing Workgroup which was established by the Citywide Oversight Committee of the Coordinated Children’s Services Initiative of NYC and importantly brings the brings together the perspectives, concerns and experience of leaders from children and youth services, housing services, adult services and youth advocates.

The Toolkit recognizes the importance of peer-to-peer work in helping young people transition to adult systems, a practice that MHA-NYC has long supported through employment of youth advocates in our programs. As a call to action, “More Than a Roof Over Their Heads” provides us with a starting point to rethink how our provider community can make housing options that are little more than shelter for young adults feel like a home—and how we can foster the long-term social connectedness that is necessary for them to make a successful transition to adulthood. We are grateful to CCSI of NYC and the Young Adult Housing Workgroup for the opportunity to work with leaders across multiple systems to find solutions to issues that none of us alone can solve.

  1. “The Adolescent Brain: New Research and Its Implications for Young People Transitioning From Foster Care”, The Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative, 2011.

2.            To download the report, please visit

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