Children, families should not be homeless

The number of homeless young people in suburban and outstate communities is growing at an alarming rate and more shelters are needed.

These youth are defined as 21 years old or less who lack a fixed regular and adequate night-time residence.

In October 2009, the Wilder Research Minnesota Homeless Study found 1,675 homeless families with 3,215 children age 17 and younger.

Anoka County officials are wrestling with the finding that from 2009 to 2011, the number of homeless children has gone up from 385 to 576.

Several weeks ago, school officials in the Anoka school district found that 196 students were homeless, including new births through age 21. The district has an enrollment of 38,500 students.

In the Elk River school district, officials have identified 18 students who have been homeless this school year and estimate that number will reach 40 by the end of the school year. That compares to 49 during the last school year and 29 in 2009–2010.

The biggest cause is loss of housing by the parents. In some cases families without a home are doubling up in homes of relatives and friends.

Sherburne County Human Services has referred homeless people to shelters in St. Cloud and to a church-sponsored program in Anoka County. The Salvation Army has paid the cost of sheltering a homeless family temporarily in a hotel.

One source said there are 55 shelter beds for homeless youth in Minnesota.

School districts are required by federal law to have school staff and a district homeless liaison ready to assist homeless students and have service teams in place.

While there are more homeless youth in suburban and exurban communities, most school officials report the number is relatively low. School principals are responsible for getting homeless students to and from school, but are not responsible for seeing they have a place to stay overnight.

Finding a place for homeless students and their families to stay is challenging counties and communities.

Absent a place to stay, homeless youth stay with relatives or couch hop from home to home. Alan Ostergard, youth support specialist at the Emma B. Howe YMCA in Northtown, said clients have slept in parks by the Mississippi River, in their cars and heated bus shelters.

The Emma Howe YMCA counsels homeless youth in the Northwest Suburban area and helps them find shelter according to their needs. They have resources to enable them to stay in a hotel overnight and help them pay apartment rent until they can find a place to stay.

A host-home program is under way where a homeless youth can stay with a family that has room for them without either the youth paying rent or family being reimbursed for expenses.

Avenues for Homeless Youth is the fiscal agent for the Host-Home program as well as similar programs at the Oasis for Youth in Bloomington and the Teens Alone program in Hopkins.

Counties or a group of communities might follow a planning model used by Heading Home Anoka, part of Heading Home Minnesota, a partnership of local and state planners to end homelessness.

Heading Home Anoka has put a plan together to make citizens aware of homeless youth and to promote five short-term emergency beds for youth. Anoka County does have a Stepping Stone Emergency Housing for homeless single adults, and the Alexandra House which shelters battered women and their children.

In addition, churches in the county take turns feeding and sheltering homeless families, who must leave in the morning.

There is no shelter for homeless youth in the Anoka County.

Here in Sherburne and Wright County, Great River Family Promise continues to line up churches in hopes of launching a program for homeless but at least three more churches are needed.

No child should be homeless in our communities. Leaders, particularly in churches, should examine this problem and make sure their young people have a safe place to go at night. — Don Heinzman, ECM Publishers