Matching homeless youth with a welcoming home

Five years ago, this community came together around the vision that all people in Minneapolis and Hennepin County will have access to safe, decent and affordable housing and the supports they need to sustain that housing. That remains our vision, and we have not wavered in our belief that this can be done.

Despite the challenges of the last five years — the economy, a major tornado, unemployment and one of the tightest rental vacancy rates in a decade — hundreds of people working to end homelessness every day in our community did not stop. They worked harder. They worked smarter. And, in ways large and small, they were remarkably successful. 

A collaboration that I continue to be impressed by and grateful for is the collaboration of the downtown Minneapolis business community and the Downtown Congregations to End Homelessness, an interfaith group whose members include 16 downtown churches, mosques and synagogues. 

Two winters ago, they created the Currie Avenue Partnership. Collectively, they raised the resources necessary to end homelessness for more than 150 people with disabilities who were sleeping in overcrowded downtown shelters. These individuals were connected to their own apartments, and nearly 90 percent have remained in their new homes.

Now, thanks to support from the Downtown Improvement District and the Downtown Congregations to End Homelessness, a new community program is launching in September called the Minneapolis Host Home Program. This program will match our city’s homeless youth with caring adult volunteers willing to open their Minneapolis homes and their hearts to provide safety, shelter and support. 

We estimate somewhere between 400 and 500 young people are homeless every night in Minneapolis. They may be couch hopping. They may be outside. They may be riding buses all night. They may be trading sex for a place to sleep.

Disconnected from their families, homeless young people are extremely vulnerable to personal harm and exploitation. Their homelessness is very destabilizing and distracts them from important priorities like school, extracurricular activities and after-school jobs.

Community volunteers will be the key to making the Minneapolis Host Home Program work for our youth. The host home model is a proven community- and volunteer-based approach to supporting homeless youth as they transition to independence. It allows youth to stay in their local community and be near school, friends and jobs. It gives them time to finish school or pursue other goals without worrying about where they’ll sleep or what they will eat.

While the youth stay in their hosts’ homes only temporarily, the experience often builds meaningful, lifelong relationships between the two.

We are delighted that Avenues for Homeless Youth, which has years of experience coordinating the successful GLBT Host Home Program and the Suburban Host Home Program, is the ‘host’ and guide for the program.  

The Minneapolis Host Home Program is actively recruiting adult volunteers to become host homes. Singles and couples, owners and renters — all are welcome to apply. Hosts will receive training and, once matched with a youth, strong guidance and support from the program.

Want to learn more? Attend one of the no-obligation evening information sessions in September (see list below), visit minneapolishosthome.org or call 522–1690 and ask for Deena.

Cathy ten Broeke is the Director of the Minneapolis/Hennepin County Office to End Homelessness.