When youth decide anything's better than home

Edison High School is one that has the most identified homeless youth, up to 150 a year. “That’s a whole grade level,” said Elena Shaw, one of the speakers at Northeast Network Dec. 12. She’s the Minneapolis Public Schools High School Support Liaison.

Youth are doing their best to fit in. One would not know they are homeless, said Lisa Borneman, who runs a drop-in center not in Northeast. But there are signs to watch for, Shaw said, such as hoarding food, falling asleep in class, wearing the same clothes day after day, frequent changes of address.

In fact, “highly mobile” is the other definition lumped in with “homeless”—students and families who double up with relatives or friends, sometimes paying for their lodging with food, moving on when the arrangement gets too strained. Shaw said there are almost 7,000 Minneapolis youth homeless or highly mobile, and 1,200 of them are in high school.

“When a youth decides anything’s better than home, it’s a

crisis,” Shaw said. Shelters can house about 70 per night, of 600 in need, and the solution is “bus fare so they can ride all night,” where they’re relatively safe and warm.

Rules have been changed so that youth may receive services without needing a parent signature. Schools assist with school fees and uniforms. Some high schools have extra lockers so homeless students store possessions rather than haul them around. They get discreet shower, laundry and food shelf use.

Casey Schleisman is Community Program Director at the Emma B. Howe YMCA in Northeast. It’s an administration building with no public programming. She listed the top causes of teen homelessness in the last two years:

  • LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender, queer) youth whose families kick them out.
  • With more households in apartments because rented homes were foreclosed, oldest youths are sometimes asked to leave because of too many people on the lease. Similarly, a pregnant girl’s baby puts the family over occupancy.
  • Refugee and immigrant families sometimes go back to their home country, expecting the young person to stay behind and send money.

When young people come into the Y on Jackson Street NE, “We usually refer them to outreach workers who are available seven days a week. We let them come in and wait and warm up, or talk with them to make a plan.”

The extent of Northeast youth homelessness is an issue, and Emma Hixson, who arranged the Northeast Network meeting on behalf of the Eastside Food Cooperative board, said “the big need in Northeast is drop-in space.” YouthLink isn’t far away, someone commented.

Lisa Borneman talked about the YouthLink Youth Opportunity Center, 41 North 12th Street, Minneapolis, where she is Clinical Services Supervisor. It’s a drop-in center for ages 18 to 24 in the mornings, 16 to 21 in the afternoons. “Brains are not fully formed until ages 24 or 25, and with the trauma these youth have been through, it means they are often further behind so they definitely need more support beyond 18 or 21.”

She explained “trauma” as being exploited sexually or financially on the streets, plus whatever was going on at home. “They’re not always willing to work through it.” As the identified cause of family strife in many cases, they may have been forced to get therapy, or been put on medications, and then because of other circumstances, the treatment might have been interrupted. “We build trust first, then invite them in” to ask for mental health services.

Youth Link brings services on site throughout the month, including doctor, dentist, legal, GED preparation, Medical Assistance, and food support. They can shower and wash clothes, do yoga, art, and energy healing. Phone 612-252-1200.

Deena McKinney is the Program Manager for the Minneapolis Host Home Program by Avenues for Homeless Youth; they have 20 shelter beds, turning away two to three people a day while accommodating those they serve for an average of four months, maximum 18 months. They also place youth with volunteers who welcome youth to live in their homes. There is no financial incentive, unlike foster care.

She said it’s a myth that homeless youth have drug problems. “Most are not chemically dependent. If there’s chemicals involved” in the family breakup, “it’s the adults.”

Homelessness for youth is not a choice, but a circumstance, McKinney said. She’s seeing an additional problem: as grandparents age, they can’t keep an 18 year old with them (in senior apartment complexes that don’t allow children). Over 80 percent of homeless kids are of color.

“One caring adult makes the most difference” to a child, she said, explaining how the volunteer-youth matches are made, asking people to consider hosting, to serve on an advisory committee, or offer speaking opportunities to other groups.

McKinney said it takes about four months for a traumatized youth to adjust, start to heal, reflect on where they have been and start to think about the future. The average stay with a host home is eight months, though the host is asked for an 18-month commitment. Hosts get 16 hours of training, and staff who’ve referred the young person remain connected throughout the stay. The host writes a letter to a generic young person, the youth read the letters and select the hosts; from there they meet and mutually decide if it’s the right fit.

Attendees and speakers traded resource tips and some may pursue the idea of a youth drop-in center in Northeast further (contact Hixson through the co-op). Others mentioned a need for public bathrooms, and “pod” or single room occupancy housing.

Resources/comments:

Downtown library is friendly to homeless youth, and to some extent, the Northeast library.

High school youth all have been given Go-To cards so they have bus fare.

Streetworks, a collaborative program, puts out a resource brochure and its members take turns scouring the streets for youth to give it to.

HUD (federal department of Housing and Urban Development) has mandated coordinated assessment of homelessness. Communities need to map it out and decide how and where to refer people for help.

A Youth Service Network of executive directors in the field meets monthly.

There is a free mobile phone program.

Food shelves have been made “no hassle,” youth can access food and leave.

How can a business be friendly to youth without inviting more hang-around problems? McKinney suggested offering information about where to hang out instead.

“Northeast is disadvantaged by not having a just youth-focused agency,” said State Representative Diane Loeffler.

State Senator Kari Dziedzic asked how homelessness is trending. (Earlier, the YouthLink representative said when they opened they expected maybe 100 youth in the year; 100 came in the first month.) The consensus: Homelessness is up and people are needing to stay in shelters longer than anyone would like.

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    Margo Ashmore's picture
    Margo Ashmore

    Margo Ashmore is the editor of NorthNews.