Hope 4 Youth, the Anoka drop-in center for homeless youth that will open March 4, needs supplies and volunteers.
The center, in the Old Milk Bottle Factory site, will offer homeless young people hot meals, counseling services, a washer and dryer, a shower, the use of computers and, most important, a place where they can feel safe.
But there's a need for furniture, clothing, food-shelf supplies, hygiene items, storage bins, shelving, backpacks, school supplies and baby items. The center is also seeking computers, flat-screen TVs, a full-size freezer, a vacuum cleaner, first-aid kits, board games and cleaning supplies, among other things. To donate or offer volunteer services, go to hope4youthmn.org or call 763-323-2066.
The center's organizers hope to create a network of host homes — volunteers willing to give the teenagers a place to sleep after the center's doors close, at 7 p.m. weeknights and 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
"Today, we don't have anywhere to send them," said Brian Swanson, who has chaired the committee behind the center. "Today, we have limited options: Send them to a shelter or give a kid a bus pass and bus route and they can ride through the night."
Swanson, a Ramsey resident who runs a business in Ham Lake, became the driving force behind the center after learning that the number of homeless teenagers in Anoka County could exceed 1,000.
Nobody can say for sure how many homeless teenagers live in Anoka County. They sleep in port-a-potties and cars, camp under bridges, ride buses all night or hop from couch to couch. But authorities are fairly certain the number has grown at a frightening pace the past few years.
This school year, there already have been 520 homeless students counted in the Anoka-Hennepin School District, according to Karrie Schaaf, the district's homeless youth and families liaison. While those numbers include students who don't live in Anoka County, excluded are students in the county's other school districts: Centennial, Columbia Heights, Fridley, Spring Lake Park and St. Francis.
Of the county's homeless youth, 89 percent are attending school, Swanson said.
Hope 4 Youth, at 2665 4th Av. N. in Anoka, had been occupied by a church until recently. A new floor had been installed and walls were painted — meaning the space was move-in ready, said state Rep. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, who owns the building and is leasing the space at a cut rate.
Nurses have offered to do health screenings. Dress clothes will be available for drop-ins who have job interviews. There will be a spot to do homework or relax.
The center is seeking nonprofit 501(c)3 status and hopes to attract sponsors.
"This is a community organization," Swanson said. "This isn't a government partnership of any sort.
"If we don't have volunteers here, we're not going to be open every day."