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Positively MN: Nonprofit Curbs Growing Homeless Youth Population

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(credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

(credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Minnesota’s homeless youth population is growing.

On any given night, 2,500 young people spend the night on couches, car backseats, or worst of all, at city parks across the metro. More than 10,000 Minnesotans younger than 18 will experience homelessness in some form this year.

Kevin Barry has been there.

Barry, 23, left his south Minneapolis home at age 19, bouncing around friends’ apartments for more than a year. He stayed at more than a dozen different places, none of which felt like home.

“It was a long, long year,” Barry said. “It’s just a lot to go through at that age, it really kept me from figuring out who I was.”

In 2011, Barry found a new home at Nicollet Square, a housing development for homeless youth ages 16-21, operated by the Beacon Interfaith Housing Collaborative, a nonprofit organization.

Nicollet Square is one of the first supportive housing programs specifically designed to meet the requirements of the new federal Fostering Connections legislation. The legislation requires foster care youth to be provided with transitional services from 18-21 years old.

“Young people often end up homeless for reasons different from adults,” said Lee Blons, Beacon’s executive director. “Many times abuse — physical, sexual, drugs — causes them to leave home as young as 14 or 15 … they think that the streets will be safer, and of course, that is not the case.”

Beacon offers both formal and informal counseling to help heal from the trauma of homelessness. There are also programs designed to help youth find jobs and complete educational goals.

Barry has had a steady job for more than a year now, saving money and working toward his own place.

“It’s been a life-saver, being here,” Barry said. “It’s really given me a chance to embrace my responsibility and act like the adult I am.”

Beacon is working to secure funding for a new, aggressive project in Ramsey County, where housing for homeless youth is scarce. The organization has proposed Prior Crossing, a 44-unit complex along the Central Corridor that would open in 2014, modeled after Nicollet Square.

The timing couldn’t be better. State lawmakers are considering a large increase in funding for homeless youth services.

Currently the state gets $239,000 or 13 cents per youth, per night. The House budget raises that number to $3 million, the Senate, $5 million.

This spring, legislators were startled by a tour of Nicollet Square, a chance to see youth homelessness up close.

“They were absolutely shocked to learn that we have these teenagers sleeping in a portable toilet in a park,” Blons said. “I think Minnesota — both its lawmakers and citizens — are really embracing this problem and acting (to change) it.”

Since 2001, Beacon has worked with 50 congregations across the Metro to get involved in changing our community. A nonprofit organization, they do accept private donations.

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