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$8M to house hope for youth
January 17, 2013

We’re still riding high after Tuesday’s Acting on Faith event at The House of Hope Presbyterian Church. More than 200 people from 38 congregations and 44 House districts showed up. They shared stories and write messages to lawmakers urging funding the Homeless Youth Act with $8 million—and we delivered them Wednesday.  

The House of Hope itself has pledged $500,000 to us over five years to develop Prior Crossing, which will be home to 40 or more young adults. Here’s why this funding is so important, said Rev. David Van Dyke, House of Hope pastor.

Act would address gap in effective housing development
Even with that kind of seed money, he said, finding the millions it takes to build and operate supportive housing presents a “chicken and egg” conundrum:  capital funders are hesitant to commit money for bricks and mortar without a service model in place, yet service funders want to know construction is guaranteed before committing money to a program. He continued:

It is complicated . . . But I also know this: the 15-year-old kid sleeping alone in an abandoned house tonight doesn’t care about that.  The 16-year-old who can’t go home tonight out of fear of her mother’s drug-dealing boyfriend doesn’t care about the rationale in allocating housing assistance funds. The 17-year-old lucky enough to be sleeping tonight in one of the 8 emergency shelter beds in Saint Paul, and wondering how he’s going to make it through tomorrow, isn’t interested in someone’s elaborate process.  And furthermore, funding is always much more about our will and resolve as a people than it is about how limited the resources are reported to be.

Making the leap from being homeless to being housed isn’t as simple as you’d think. People who were homeless might take a while to trust others; to adjust to quiet; to allow their racing minds to stop thinking of survival 24/7; to plan for the future. Support for the transition is the key to success, offered Rev. Doug Mitchell of Westminster Presbyterian Church, which backs Nicollet Square, Beacon’s successful youth housing in South Minneapolis, along with Plymouth Congregational Church. At Nicollet Square, onsite staff from HIRED, our employment program, and YouthLink, our service partner, plus CommonBond Communities property management, ensure that the 42 young people who live there have adults who will listen, help sort out emotional and practical problems, and guidance when needed.

Private funders generous, but level needed unsustainable
“Nicollet Square works well,” said Mitchell, “but it is very expensive.” Only 20 percent of the $530,000 it costs to provide the onsite services comes from public sources. While private sources have been generous, he continued, this level of fundraising isn’t really sustainable – and the time and energy spent raising the needed $425,000 in private dollars every year could be better spent developing new housing with services for more homeless and vulnerable youth.

Lest you imagine that homelessness is an urban problem, Lauren Morse-Wendt of Edina Community Lutheran Church knows there are homeless teens in her backyard too. Her congregation has heard the tough stories: teens sleep in porta-potties because they lock, or in a car in a new parking lot each night. They roam the aisles of a late-night grocery store, do homework at Southdale Mall until it’s time to close up, or ride the bus all night.

ECLC, too, has thrown its hat in the ring with us to build housing for youth in the western suburbs – no details yet—and funding the Homeless Youth Act is one step in the right direction, Morse-Wendt said.

Tonight is the continuation of years and years of working to end youth homelessness for many of the congregations here. But, it is also the start of our combined effort to raise our voices and advocate together, as ONE, to end the silent but tragic reality of youth homelessness across our state. With our voices raised together, and the spirit of justice and mercy that unite us as people of faith, we can ensure that the legislature fully funds the Homeless Youth Act and the programs that can end youth homelessness forever.

Raising our voices together is powerful, she added, as people comign togehter from various faith communiteis and across city and county lines. And as Rev. Van Dyke reminded us, our budgets say a lot about who we are as faith communiteis --and as a state.

"Nothing speaks louder or with more clarity and honesty about our priorities than does the allocation of our resources," Van Dyke said. "Where the money goes tells the truth about a society."

We welcome you to help us tell the truth about youth homelessness in powerful unison with others. Become a Beacon Citizen today.