When organizers created Hope 4 Youth, Anoka County’s drop-in center for homeless young people, skeptics wondered whether anyone would use it. Even the center’s founders weren’t sure.
“Homeless kids are invisible,” said state Rep. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, who owns the building that the center uses. “It was kind of like ‘If you build it, they will come.’ ”
They have come in numbers that exceed expectations, the center’s executive director said recently. The center, which was launched in March 2013 and is open seven days a week, attracted 270 young people who made more than 3,300 visits over nine months in 2013.
Those numbers could increase, based on homeless counts done through the Anoka-Hennepin School District.
As of last week, 786 Anoka-Hennepin students had been identified as homeless this school year, meaning they had no identifiable home address. Last year, there were 721, said Karrie Schaaf, the district’s homeless youth and families liaison.
Of this year’s homeless Anoka-Hennepin students, 168 have been identified as unaccompanied youth — kids who are living on their own.
“The summer months are busier,” said Deb Lande, Hope 4 Youth’s executive director. “Young people are moving around. I’m thinking our numbers are going to go up.”
Hope 4 Youth, the only drop-in center for young homeless people 23 or younger in the northwestern metro area, calls itself a one-stop support and referral center where kids can feel safe and valued. The nonprofit center works with area partners to develop housing options for youngsters.
It provides young homeless people with clothing, a washer and dryer, hygiene products, a place to shower, computers, and volunteers to help young people complete applications. It is not a shelter — although the center did ask the Anoka City Council if it could add sleeping quarters. In December, the council passed a moratorium for up to a year on new overnight shelters while it studies the matter.
But Hope is working with the area YMCA, which this year started a program to provide rooms in private homes for the county’s homeless.
“The main program we saw the young people make use of was the food program, where a hot meal is served once per day,” Lande said. “But we see a lot of traffic all seven days and at all hours when we’re open.”
The center has more than 200 volunteers with an expanding network of donors, Abeler said.
“Whenever I hear a recap of the numbers, I can only say, ‘Wow,’ ” Abeler said of the volunteers. “We’re maturing as an agency. There are times we get so many donations that we donate to somebody else.
“People really believe in this project.”
This month, Schaaf received a Women Who Impact Award from the Minnesota Women of Today for her service to Anoka-Hennepin students and families experiencing homelessness. In addition to the award, Schaaf received a $100 check. She donated it to Hope 4 Youth.