• 4,080 youth and young adults are homeless and on their own on any night in Minnesota.
More than 10,000 young people in Minnesota experience homelessness every year.
• 21% of homeless youth have been attacked or beaten while homeless.
• 30% of homeless youth have stayed in an abusive situation because they did not have other housing options.
• 17% of homeless youth have traded sex for shelter, food, clothing or other essentials, with the rates higher among females.
The statistics on youth homelessness in Minnesota are, to say the least, startling. Enter Avenues for Homeless Youth, a transitional housing program that recruits, screens and trains volunteer hosts who welcome homeless youth into their homes through their GLBT Host Home Program, Minneapolis Host Home Program and Suburban Host Home Program.
Volunteer hosts include empty nesters, those in their 30s who do not have kids, retired couples with adults kids and families with young children.
‘At great risk of exploitation’
“When young people end up homeless, it’s generally for no fault of their own. Once homeless, though, they are at great risk of exploitation,” said Deborah Loon, executive director of Avenues for Homeless Youth.
“We see tremendous potential in all homeless youth. With a safe place to call home and a bit of support, they are able to pursue their goals and move on to a successful young adulthood. It doesn’t take much for them to be able to move from surviving to thriving.”
Kara Skogg and her family became hosts through the Suburban Host Home Program. “We don’t see homelessness,” she said of her suburban neighborhood. “I knew it happened but we don’t come across it and we had no idea.”
The Skogg family hosted a girl who had been shut out of her parents’ home when they found out she was pregnant.
“Her background would have been similar to any middle-class household in my neighborhood,” Skogg said. “A girl ended up having a decent bed every night, knew where she would be, and had what she needed to stay healthy and deliver a healthy baby.”
When Beth Bohnsack was searching for opportunities to serve teens, she found Avenues for Homeless Youth.
“I knew that I really wanted to do this,” she said after attending two information sessions. “I am single. I have a home with plenty of room. I have time to make this work. It’s my version of community service. I saw how much impact one person makes — it doesn’t take much to make an impact on somebody.”
‘I would do it again in a heartbeat’
Bohnsack found that her greatest learnings were in letting go of preconceived ideas. “I found an ability to be open-minded to somebody’s else’s values and beliefs and situation that brought them here.”
Would they host another young person?
“With what I am putting into this program, I am certainly getting more out of it,” said Bohnsack, adding that “there’s wonderful support from Avenues. They are very involved.”
“It would be really nice to say that it was easy all the time. It was not all rainbows and flowers,” added Skogg. “It was difficult at times, yet I would do it again in a heartbeat.”
Hear from a youth in the program at: www.youtube.com/watch?v=AcOcwUqbbN4
Kathy Magnuson is co-publisher of the Minnesota Women’s Press. This article is reprinted with permission from MWP.
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