MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota — It's been a week since five young families experiencing homelessness moved in to "Marlene's Place" in Minneapolis.
Marlene's Place serves young moms and dads and their children, providing housing and services for single pregnant or parenting homeless youth, ages 16-20. It's the first site-based transitional living program for homeless pregnant and parenting youth and their children in Hennepin County.
"There was nothing that was site-based specifically for homeless teen parents, in particular homeless teen parents ages 16-18 which is the emphasis of Marlene's Place," said Michelle Basham, executive director at The Bridge For Youth.
The Minneapolis nonprofit is focused on helping runaway and homeless youth.
"What happens when youth are homeless is that, on average, after youth hit the streets, it takes less than 72 hours for the first attempt to recruit them into the sex trade. Isn't that scary?" Basham said.
In Minnesota, it's estimated that more than 6,000 youth experience homelessness every night yet there are fewer than 110 emergency shelter beds for them.
"Homeless youth now make up almost half of Minnesota's homeless population and amongst homeless youth, almost 35% of them are pregnant or parenting," Basham explained.
Named in honor of Bridge for Youth co-founder Marlene Barghini, Marlene's Place opened on April 1 and welcomed five single moms between the ages of 16-18 and their children. The space includes a kitchen, dining room, living room, play room, computer lab and five individual rooms.
Associate Director Christina Woodlee said that when families first moved in, they said, "This is really nice, it's really clean, I feel really safe. By Thursday last week it was... this feels like home. My kid can run around. I'm not afraid at night. I have some place safe to go."
Basham said there is a growing need for housing for homeless pregnant and parenting youth. Their wait list has more than 45 families on it.
"It's those basic things I think all of us take for granted that they're so grateful for. This morning it was, 'Good morning' and they're like, 'No, good morning and thank you,'" Woodlee said.
Families can stay at Marlene's Place for up to 18 months. The goal is to make a lasting impact. They provide not only housing but other services, as well.
"Therapy is key. We also have a crime victims program. We also have a job training and job placement program," Basham said. "We also really try to help them focus on themselves—finishing school, learning to be good parents but not becoming a parent again."
Basham said their long-term goal is to open a multi-unit apartment building specifically for young families experiencing homelessness.
The Bridge For Youth is also busy at the Minnesota State Capitol trying to get more funding for the Homeless Youth Act. Basham said the House included a $1.5 million increase in funding to the program in its omnibus health and human services finance bill but the Senate side did not. You can read more about the bills, here.
"I hope that people in Minnesota, when you go to bed tonight, be thankful for what you have. But also think about there's a lot of people who don't have that, in particular kids. Whether it's your time, or your money, or your goods, think about what you can give back to make the world better for homeless minor parents," Basham said.
If you would like to help, visit The Bridge For Youth website or call them at 612-377-8800.