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When stay-at-home is not an option: Organization helps homeless youth during pandemic

Face to Face has always helped the homeless youth population with housing and other necessities. The pandemic isn't stopping their work now.

ST PAUL, Minn. — It's been weeks now, since we heard the words "Stay Home Minnesota."

We grumble at the thought of being trapped at home, but what if you don't have a place to call home?

Homeless youth continue to struggle, pandemic or not, with housing. However, Face to Face says it's helping find ways to help those who need shelter right now.

"These are young people who have not been able to live stable lives," Executive Director of Face to Face Hanna Getachew-Kreusser said. "Their lack of housing and multiple barriers they have in their lives -- this pandemic has not helped in any way. In fact it has made things worse."

Getachew-Kreusser's organization normally helps homeless youth with housing, medical care, mental healthcare, education support as well as providing meals to them on a daily basis. However, when the pandemic hit, Getachew-Kreusser says her game plans had to change. She added that when she first heard the words "stay at home," her heart sank.

"Wow, what a privilege for many who can afford to stay at home," Getachew-Kreusser said. "We serve young people who don't have a place to call home and that is a challenge by itself. Where do they go?"

"Those questions have gotten a bit harder to answer and harder to go home with at night frankly," Ginny Hissam said. 

Hissam is an advocate at Face to Face. "They ask, 'where do we shelter in place? We don't have a place to stay inside. Where do we shower? Where do we get hot meals?'"

Hissam, who was a former homeless youth who benefited from Face to Face when she was younger, said she understands stability means everything right now for the youth she serves. So the Face to Face team got to work, calling on the community, including asking for food donations that youth can come pick up at their "SafeZone" located in St. Paul.

"Now it's just a consistent face to come and see," Hissam said. "They're happy to see us when they walk in. We call them by name and they say thank you for saying my name. They're a person now. Not just a number or someone walking around on the street."

Plus, with a variety of help coming in, Getachew-Kreusser said Ramsey county was able to secure temporary housing for a handful of youth during this time.

"They have been able to provide housing for two weeks and now about 17 days at a hotel in downtown St. Paul," Getachew-Kreusser said."Once they provided that housing, a group of us -- youth services providers -- said, 'Okay how do we make sure the young people are taken care of in this way?' Ramsey county is looking to see how they can make that stay longer than just 17 days."

On top of that, volunteers like Angie Ohmes make sure that the youth get more than just food deliveries.

"[A] kid that came in--we had bananas that were starting to turn brown and he goes, 'I would love homemade banana bread,' so I made it," Ohmes said. "Next Tuesday he came in and I said, 'hey, I made you banana bread,' and he said 'you really did? you followed through.'"

A follow-through is precisely what homeless youth need right now. Face to Face says it is hoping that one fulfilled promise will lead to another. They're asking for the community's generosity, even during the toughest of times.

"[It] gives you motivation to keep going," Hissam said. "The drive to feel like other people are going to say yes too. The more you talk about it, the more you become aware of it, and they wanna help-- and it just spreads."

If you would like to contribute your time or money to Face to Face, you can find out how here, on their website.

KARE 11’s coverage of the coronavirus is rooted in Facts, not Fear. Visit kare11.com/coronavirus for comprehensive coverage, find out what you need to know about the Midwest specifically, learn more about the symptoms, and see what companies in Minnesota are hiring. Have a question? Text it to us at 763-797-7215. And get the latest coronavirus updates sent right to your inbox every morning. Subscribe to the KARE 11 Sunrise newsletter here. Help local families in need: www.kare11.com/give11

The state of Minnesota has set up a hotline for general questions about coronavirus at 651-201-3920 or 1-800-657-3903, available 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

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