Two years ago, during a simple adult forum, our congregation was hit with this statistic: In Minnesota, every night, there are 2,500 unaccompanied homeless youth. 2,500. For years, we’ve hosted families in our Sunday School classrooms for a week at a time with Families Moving Forward…we’ve collected socks and mittens for men staying at St. Stephen’s shelter…we’ve donated money to Lutheran Social Services’ homelessness programs. But as we heard that statistic and pictured our own teens outside, on their own—we realized we weren’t doing enough.
We heard stories of suburban teens sleeping in “Port-a-Potties” in parks: because they LOCK. We heard of suburban teens kicked out of their homes for being gay, or because their parent was using drugs, or because a parent’s new significant other didn’t want them there…and those teens refusing to tell any teachers/school counselors/friends because they just want to “fit in” like everyone else. We heard stories of suburban teens doubled up on a second cousin’s couch and taking three buses to school at 4:30 in the morning.
We heard stories of teens trading sex for a night of sleep.
In Edina. In St. Louis Park. In Richfield. In every suburb.
We also heard this: there are no beds in the suburbs. A homeless youth must find his or her way to a shelter in Minneapolis—a daunting task for a high school student from Eden Prairie who has never been on a public bus—only to discover, usually, that the few beds there are full. And then the teen is on the street again with no place to go. Now the wonderful Suburban Host Home program has started and there are a few safe homes for teens to stay in their school districts—but the need far, far outweighs the capacity.
Our congregation felt compelled to act, but did not know how to begin…until we toured Nicollet Square, a beautiful, modern apartment building in south Minneapolis built by Beacon Interfaith Housing Collaborative. There is job support, case management, and most importantly, housing for formerly homeless youth. There’s a gym, a TV room, a common kitchen for birthday parties and Superbowl parties. Nicollet Square residents are proud to live there and neighbors are proud to be nearby. Nicollet Square is a place of hope: not only for the 18- to 22-year-olds who live there, but also for our congregation. Now that we know what’s needed – a “Nicollet Square” for the western suburbs – we know what we need to do next to end homelessness.
-Excerpts from remarks by Lauren Morse-Wendt, Mission and Ministry Developer, Edina Community Lutheran Church, at our Youth Housing Advocacy breakfast held at ECLC Oct. 11, attended by clergy and members of 28 west metro congregations interested in ending youth homelessness.