The Family Place, day shelter for homeless families, launches Montessori program


The Family Place (244 E.10th St., Saint Paul), the only day shelter for homeless families in Ramsey County, is finally getting into gear their long-awaited Montessori program, all thanks to the generosity of 10-year-old Bella Lauer.

“When I was little, I always wanted to do something to change the world,” said Lauer. “When my mom found this day center and I saw the children’s room, I knew I had found a way to do it.”

Lauer was honored with The Family Place’s First Annual Outstanding Youth Award for her inner beauty and graciousness in helping children in the community. At her last birthday party, instead of presents, Lauer asked for donation money to provide books and toys for The Family Place’s infant and preschool-aged children’s room, now renamed Casa de la Bella.

Lauer raised almost $5,000. The children’s room has been completely refurbished and The Family Place has been able to begin training its staff and volunteers in Montessori teaching methods.

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“And it’s all because of Bella,” said Dr. Margaret Lovejoy, founder of The Family Place, who has been fighting alongside homeless families on many fronts for more than 13 years.

“It’s important that we have the courage to be able to help children learn,” said Lovejoy. “We’re doing our best to make this a better place for children and their families. When we look at the Montessori part, it’s about process and there’s a need for parents to show their children how to process.”

Lovejoy says that since The Family Places’ inception in 2001, 70 percent of its participants have been children. She sees the parents that come through the program battle daily trying to overcome tremendous hurdles, which are growing in depth and scope as the economic divide widens. Simply escaping poverty has become the cause of many social ills, including homelessness.

Local churches volunteer to house homeless families overnight on a monthly-rotation, and a shuttle busses them to the day shelter in the morning. At The Family Place, families in crisis find healthy meals and clean showers, laundry facilities and storage lockers, and the support they need to find permanent housing.

In addition to Casa de la Bella, The Family Place also has a Life Skills Center, outfitted with computers and other resources for parents to use while the older children go to school. Parents can also enroll in a 16-week basic life skills training course with a curriculum on subjects such as finding housing and tenants’ rights, wellness and motivation, financial literacy and finding employment.

“Education Changed Everything”

Successful tax attorney turned childhood homelessness advocate, Nikki Johnson-Huston, was keynote at The Family Place’s 13th anniversary fundraiser on Oct. 11 at the Embassy Suites in downtown Saint Paul.

At nine years old, Johnson-Huston and her brother found themselves on living on the street. she was eventually placed into foster care, while she bounced around the country staying with relatives. Although she struggled finishing school, through the generosity of others, Johnson-Huston was able to fulfill her dream of becoming a lawyer, with a successful practice in Philadelphia.

A few years ago, her brother passed away because of a drug addiction. “When my brother died, I knew I had to do something to help other people not find themselves in his situation,” said Johnson-Huston. “We often blame the people who are homeless for the problem. But it’s not just alcoholics, drug addicts or people with mental health issues. It’s more complicated than that. For me, education changed everything.”

Johnson-Huston praised Lovejoy and the work of The Family Place.

“The Family Place and the work that Margaret (Lovejoy) has done here is amazing,” said Johnson-Huston. “It’s sad that we still have this problem and that there are more and more people ending up on the street, so it’s just amazing to have a place like this.”

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