MINNEAPOLIS - On any given night in Minnesota, there are more than 2,500 young people between the ages of 16-21 who are homeless. There are fewer than 80 emergency shelter beds for kids in that age group in the entire state.
"These young people are at a crossroads and if we don't stop it now, between the ages of you know up to 21, then that perpetuates long-term homelessness or incarceration or something worse, even death," says Heather Huesby, Executive Director of Youthlink.
Youthlink is an organization in Minneapolis that is trying to help young people get back on their feet. They house several non-profits in one place that are all focused on the issue. Homeless teenagers can go there from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Friday, to take a shower, wash clothes, get bus tokens and even work on their GEDs. But at 8 p.m., there are still plenty of young people with no place to sleep.
"You don't have the stability. You don't have the for sure guarantee that you'll have somewhere to sleep tomorrow" says Jordin, a young woman who is homeless. "It's a day-to-day thing."
Jordin's story is very similar to others on the street.
"I dropped out of high school because I pretty much aged out of foster care and I had to get a job to support myself," she says.
Jordin's mother lost her parental rights. Her father hasn't been around since she was six. She has no adults in her life, and now in-between jobs, Jordin roams the streets by day and hopes for the best by night.
"Right now I stay with a friend, but that's not how it started," Jordin says. "At first it was mainly random people who were just like, 'oh you're homeless? Come stay at my house.'"
Another teen at Youthlink shares a similar story. David has a job, but no permanent place to live. He does what they call couch-hopping. He relies on the kindness of friends or family for a safe place to sleep at night.
"I can get a couple of nights. I can probably get a good solid week if they know I'm working," he says.
David also knows what it's like not to find that place to stay at night. Many homeless teenagers walk around all night, they sleep in abandoned buildings or parks or they simply ride the bus to stay warm.
"The [Metro Transit bus route] 3 is an hour-twenty minute bus ride from St. Paul to Minneapolis so you can get on it about three times and get some good sleep," David says.
In the last few years the problem has gotten worse. The number of homeless youth is on the rise and if you think it's just in the heart of the city, you're fooling yourself.
"The first couple of weeks of school, that's all I did is work with homeless kids," says Mitzi Heath, a crisis counselor at Park Center High School in Brooklyn Park. This year they identified 36 kids who don't have stable housing. That number has been growing thanks to the economy. Evictions, pregnancies, violence and drug abuse are all reasons kids find themselves with no place to call home.
They show up at school because it's safe and warm, but at night there is not one single shelter bed in the entire suburb.
"The shelters for homeless kids have been in the city proper and a lot of our kids don't want to go to the city, even if they have to sleep outside," Heath says. "They'd rather stay in their own neighborhoods with their own friends."
Those in the community that deal with children have recognized that teenagers are the one group that has slipped through the cracks.
"Yeah, it's hideous," says Rev. Rachel Morey, of Mosaic Church. "The problem is absolutely heartbreaking when a young person comes into this food shelf, looks up sees blankets and says, 'I get a blanket tonight.' No 16-year-old should have to say that. No child should have to say that."
The youth food shelf in Brooklyn Park opened its doors in August. Teens can go there and get food, clothing or personal hygiene items to either survive on the street or use to barter.
"They use the food from here to sort of pay rent or contribute to the resources of the household," says Rev. Morey. "It's their way of being able to contribute and it might extend their stay by another week or two weeks, or long enough to keep them out of the cold."
There are people working on an even bigger solution.
"It's a model that allows youth to look at profiles of families and say, 'I'd like to meet that one,'" says Derrick Strom.
Strom is part of the Suburban Host Home Program, a new collaboration between several organizations and every day citizens. The idea is to pair up homeless teens with families in the west metro suburbs who have space in their homes.
"Not just a room, but the ability to provide encouragement and a nurturing kind of atmosphere and joining those two together," Strom says of the program.
Right now they are training families to host kids, not just to get them off the streets, but to help provide some sense of stability and security.
(Copyright 2011 by KARE. All Rights Reserved.)