East Isles will shelter homeless teen parents

The nonprofit Bridge for Youth is adding housing for five 16- to 20-year olds and their children

Bridge for Youth toys
Toys lined the floor of Christina Woodlee's office at the Bridge for Youth on a recent weekday. The shelter is opening a wing for young people who are pregnant or parenting. Photo by Nate Gotlieb

An East Isles youth homeless shelter is opening a wing exclusively for young people who are pregnant or parenting.

The nonprofit Bridge for Youth will house five 16- to 20-year-olds — and their children — in the new space, which will open April 1. It is calling the facility Marlene’s Place in honor of its first executive director, Sister Marlene Barghini.

Young people living in Marlene’s Place will have access to employment training, on-site health care, parenting education and life-skills coaching, associate director Christina Woodlee said. The facility won’t have on-site child care, she said, but the young people will have help in identifying child care options.

Each family in Marlene’s Place will get a room of its own, though most will share a bathroom with another family. The facility also includes a shared room where kids can play, a kitchen and a dining room.

The families in Marlene’s Place will be able to stay up to 18 months and will be required to pay 30 percent of their monthly income as rent, Woodlee said. The Bridge for Youth will give priority to parents ages 16–18 when finding residents.

The nonprofit won’t necessarily expect youth in the program to work, Woodlee said, but “there’s an expectation they need to be productive.” That may mean going to school, training for a job or joining the labor force.

The facility will serve both moms and dads, as long as they fit the required age range. The Bridge for Youth will allow for one parent and up to two kids between the ages of 0 and 3.

Woodlee said the organization already has more requests to live at Marlene’s Place than it has spaces available, though it hasn’t officially started to accept referrals yet.

The Bridge for Youth serves homeless, runaway and abandoned youth ages 10–17 at its East Isles shelter, which has 14 beds. The organization also operates Rita’s House, an affordable-housing facility across the street for young people ages 18–21.

Marlene’s Place is occupying the space that used to be the Bridge for Youth’s transitional-living program for 16- and 17-year-olds, according to Woodlee. She said the organization saw a need for site-based programs that serve homeless pregnant mothers and their children.

She added that youth in the transitional program were often leaving the Bridge for Youth for programs that offered increased independence.

More than 6,000 youth experience homelessness each night in Minnesota, about a third of whom are pregnant or parenting, according to a press release from the Bridge for Youth. The state has fewer than 200 emergency shelter beds for youth, and fewer than 10 site-based units designated as age appropriate and safe, especially for homeless teen parents.