by John Warren

Who am I and where do I come from?

It’s a question everyone asks at some point in their lives when we consider long-gone relatives, distant lands, our roots.  Thankfully, most of us are close to relatives who give us a sense of self and place, such as parents, siblings and grandparents. 

For young homeless people, that is not always true.  Often life events led to the disintegration of their immediate families, leaving them alone and vulnerable.  As Tumbleweed helps these young people overcome abuse and neglect and transition to independent young adulthood, some of them   are getting a different kind of  opportunity: a chance to reconnect with lost or forgotten family =with the help of a program called Family Finding.

Through a grant from the Bob and Renee Parsons Foundation Tumbleweed Center for Youth Development is   working with non-profit partners Native American Connections and one*n*ten to help youth identify and trace supportive family members with whom they may have lost touch.“Everyone growing to adulthood faces challenges that require a supportive network of family who will be there forever,” says Family Finding developer Kevin Campbell.  “Homeless and disconnected youth feel this need just as strongly, if not more so, than the rest of us, but they have been out of touch, abused, let down by many of those closest to them.  Family finding helps them find that adult who were supportive at one time, and reaches out to rebuild those connections.”

Family Finding has never been tried with homeless youth in Arizona, Campbell says, but is already showing great promise.  In what he calls the “Forever Network” process, Campbell expertly guides traumatized youth through the often difficult process of talking through their life experiences to discover the adults who were helpful and caring.  “From there our goals are ambitious, but it is really about achieving for these young people the kind of emotional support most of us already have.”

Goals include:

  1. Supporting homeless or foster youth in developing meaningful and enduring connection with adults who will support them across their lifespan.
  2. Ensuring safe and stable family-based living arrangements for all youth with dependency needs.
  3. Supporting youth in developing a healthy sense of identity and regain dignity.
  4. For individuals with lifetime care needs, increasing connectedness and decreasing dependence on formal service systems.
  5. For all individuals, preventing encounters with or recidivism within the criminal justice system.


This week, Campbell is working with Phoenix young adults while continuing to train the staff of Tumbleweed and our agency partners.   Already, one young man has rediscovered and reconnected with family out of state, and is making plans to move there to build a stable life among supportive relatives. Other homeless young people are enthusiastic about the process and eager to reconnect.

“Everyone needs a ‘forever network’ of support,” Campbell says.  “Everyone needs a family.  In Arizona, Tumbleweed and its partners are determined to help our homeless young people find and build their networks.”

For homeless youth,  it is comforting to know where you come, and to find peace, stability and the possibility for a bright future that many thought was beyond their reach forever.