Deb Loon, Executive Director, Avenues for Homeless Youth, Minneapolis, MN
Avenues for Homeless Youth operates Minneapolis Avenues (21 bed shelter and transitional housing program in Minneapolis, Minnesota), Brooklyn Avenues (12 bed shelter and THP in the northwest suburbs of the Twin Cities) and three community-based host home programs. Brooklyn Avenues was just opened in February 2015 in partnership with the City of Brooklyn Park in response to the rise in youth homelessness and sex trafficking in the suburbs.
There are many problems with HUD’s current definition of homelessness, especially for youth and young adults, which the Homeless Children and Youth Act aims to address. For example:
1. HUD’s definition of homelessness excludes many youth from HUD-funded housing programs and from homelessness counts. For example, it does not include youth who are unstably couch-hopping from house-to-house. This is the majority of homeless youth. While they may have a place to sleep at night, they are not stable and they are not necessarily safe. And they are not getting the supportive services they need to become stable, stay in school and plan for their futures.
2. There is a terrible shortage of youth-specific shelter beds, both in Minnesota and across the country. This means youth need to spend time in adult shelters to qualify for HUD-supported housing. Adult shelters are inappropriate and often unsafe for young people. Youth will choose many other options over crowded, frightening adult shelters, including options that are not safe for them.
Our goal, as agencies supporting homeless youth, is to connect with youth as quickly as we can early in their homelessness. Early and comprehensive supportive services help them avoid long-term and chronic homelessness, becoming victims of sex trafficking, being forced to engage in sex work or illegal activities just to make ends meet, having to drop out of high school and college, and other negative outcomes.
These young people face extraordinary challenges, but supporting them is an opportunity for the larger community. We all benefit as they move from surviving the streets to thriving young adults.