Booth Brown House anticipates expansion


Shelter for adolescent girls needs more space.

Commuters on Como Avenue may have noticed the construction underway at the Booth Brown House, a shelter for adolescent girls operated by the Salvation Army. The Army is expanding its services at Booth Brown, which needs the additional living space being constructed at 1471 Como Ave.

The Salvation Army has other shelters throughout the Twin Cities, but St. Paul’s Booth Brown House is the only location that provides transitional residential services to youth. When the renovation is complete, the location will be able to boast a unique long-term support program as well.

Major Jeff Strickler, a Salvation Army administrator at Booth Brown House, said that the Army’s services in St. Paul began in 1890 through providing maternity hospital services for unwed mothers. Strickler, along with his wife, has worked at Booth Brown House for 10 years.

According to Strickler, in the early years the location of these maternity services varied. In 1913, seeking a permanent residence, the Salvation Army built the Booth Brown House on Como Avenue to house unwed mothers. He said the project was funded mainly by “a couple of brothers” in St. Paul who operated a department store downtown that has since gone under, but their business at the time was enough to fund purchase of the property and the facility’s original brick building.

Booth Brown House operated as a Salvation Army maternity hospital until the early 1970s, when the organization, due to changing attitudes and available services, began to move into new areas of service.

“There were changes in funding and changes in how girls pregnant out of wedlock were looked at by society,” said Strickler. “The Salvation Army began looking for different programs that could be operated from this facility, and they began working with what they called ‘pre-delinquent girls ’— those likely to be in trouble in other ways than unexpected pregnancy.”

This expansion of services and shift in focus led the Salvation Army to develop its residential treatment program and shelter services at Booth Brown House.

“By the early 1980s, shelter services for boys were added, and the treatment program became co-ed as well,” said Strickler. “In 1998, that treatment program was phased out due to declining numbers, and we’ve continued doing shelter services since for girls.”

Booth Brown House currently serves adolescent girls ages 12–17. According to Strickler, the majority of the young women in the house are placed through Child Protection as suspected victims of abuse or neglect. Others are runaways brought in by law enforcement. Some are referrals from other social services, and others are under foster care with the Army.

Strickler said Booth Brown serves about 200 girls a year. The house is licensed to provide shelter for up to 90 days unless appealed by waiver. The average length of stay is about two weeks. The shelter unit has five bedrooms, each of which houses several residents.

While at Booth Brown, residents develop a set of goals to work on. “We usually set three goals, and we let them choose what issues they need to look at,” Strickler said. “For instance, if a girl is placed here for running away, maybe one of her goals will be to learn other coping skills and ways to deal with her problems.”

The Army also provides counseling services for residents, as well as educational groups on health and hygiene, independent living skills and cultural diversity. The St. Paul Public School District provides academic classes on site. The Booth Brown staff includes a social worker, a marriage and family therapist, and a consulting psychiatrist.

In 2003, the Salvation Army launched its transitional living Foyer program at Booth Brown House, the first of its kind in the country.

“It’s a model of transitional living that arose in France after World War II to support homeless young people,” Strickler said. “We have 10 single-occupancy apartments that we rent to young people, ages 16–21, at 30 percent of their income. Most of the youth we serve are just out of foster care and have no place to go, and don’t have independent living skills.”

Strickler said the program emphasizes living (in the house’s safe quarters), learning (the Army helps occupants finish their education and also provides independent learning skills classes), and earning (the Army helps occupants develop résumés and work skills, and find jobs).

“About a third of our youth have enrolled in college while they’ve been here,” he said.

The Foyer program also works to place participants in good jobs during their year-long stay.

“The idea is that when they leave here, they’ll be able to live independently,” said Strickler. “About 85 percent of those we’ve served have left with permanent housing and a job.”

The success of the Foyer program led the Salvation Army to add 17 more apartments, the construction project currently underway and expected to be completed by April 2008.

“We usually have a 30-plus waiting list for each of our 10 apartments,” said Strickler. With the new units, he added, Booth Brown will be able to serve more young people who need longer-term housing.

“We see a lot of youth who can benefit from a longer stay and more supportive services,” he said. “We feel if we can catch people before they get into a lifestyle of homelessness, we can do more to prevent chronic homelessness and help people learn to support themselves.”