Building a bridge

The Bridge for Runaway Youth expanding to aid a growing problem

The Bridge for Runaway Youth, 200 Emerson Ave. S., which provides shelter and social services for teens experiencing homelessness, is planning an expansion to better meet the needs of a growing problem.

If all goes as planned, The Bridge, currently operating out of four adjacent homes in East Isles will break ground in October. So far, the group has raised $5.5 million for the $7 million project.

Its services include a 24-hour crisis hotline, walk-in counseling, 14-bed emergency shelter, family-centered counseling, street outreach workers, a transitional living program for ages 16-21, plus 24 units of permanent housing and suburban services through an agency called Teens Alone.

A majority of the 800 youth The Bridge serves yearly are from Hennepin County, but some also come from nearby suburbs. About 80 percent of youth receiving assistance from The Bridge are eventually reunited with their families.

Citing increasing energy and maintenance costs, Bridge Executive Director Ed Murphy said in a recent newsletter that the shelter couldn’t adequately serve youth experiencing homelessness.

For the first time in its 35-year history, The Bridge turned to a nightly lottery system for its eight beds earlier this year. Furthermore, the organization rents two of its four buildings from Temple Israel. Since it’s questionable how long it’ll be able to continue renting, The Bridge sought greater stability.

“Creating a home-like environment was crucial as The Bridge is a welcoming and safe place for young people on the run, and an institutional appearance doesn’t send a good message to kids,” Murphy said.

A better facility

The former Kenwood Telephone Company building, which dates to the 1920s and currently houses office spaces, will be renovated and incorporated into the newer construction designed by St. Paul-based Cermak Rhoades Architects.

One of The Bridge’s homes will be demolished to make way for the new 27,000-square-foot building that’ll accommodate 10 more transitional living beds, compared to its current eight beds just across the street from the existing campus. There’ll also be space for counseling offices, support group meetings, an administrative center, an on-site educational center and medical clinic.

Other advantages are green features, including energy-efficient construction with a rain garden, green roof and drainage system to prevent runoff. Cermak Rhoades Architects rehabbed the St. Barnabas Apartments, 15600 Old Rockford Rd. that offers housing, employment and education services for youth and low-income working adults.

Its other transitional living projects include the Clare Apartments, 957 NE Central Ave. NE for residents diagnosed with HIV/AIDS and multiple-family supportive housing at Jackson Street Village in St. Paul, among others.

Major funding sources include the city of Minneapolis Affordable Housing Trust Fund that gave them $522,000, the city’s Neighborhood Revitalization Program (NRP) that contributed of $500,000 and Hennepin County, which has committed $400,000.

Other private funding sources include the Bush Foundation, McKnight Foundation and several family foundations. In June, Kenwood Isles Area Association contributed $45,000 to the project from its NRP housing strategy fund for phase one. Lowry Hill Residents Incorporation (LHRI) also dipped into its NRP allotment for the project, giving $26,000 over two years ago.

While nearby neighborhood groups support the program, community members raised aesthetic concerns about the building and want it to reflect the area’s architecture, which is characterized by many historic homes, said LHRI member Ed Newman. He said some also worry about Hennepin Avenue businesses encroaching on residential areas.

Bridge Community Director of Community Development Monica Nilsson said the organization sought to stay in the neighborhood, where it has been for 35 years. When it opened, it was one of the nation’s first agencies to address youth homelessness, as a shelter for runaway girls.

“People experiencing homelessness want the same things that everyone else does. They want to live in a safe place,” Nilsson said. “Often when we look at homelessness, it seems like the biggest problem is money, but the challenge is finding a place where people can belong and live.”

She said the shelter benefits from its prime location, which she referred to as a “nonimpacted” area. Many other shelters are located in “high-impact areas.” Nilsson said that often youth experiencing homelessness wind up in places where there are high crime rates. Additionally, its access to the transit corridor, including nearby bus stops, enables youth to get to jobs.

For more information about The Bridge for Runaway Youth, call 377-8800 or check out

Anna Pratt can be reached at 4336-4391 or