Homespun Christmas stockings hang in the entryway of what was once an old dance studio, offering a cozy welcome to the dozen residents who soon will move into Anoka County’s only transitional housing facility for homeless youth.
HOPE Place officially opened its doors in Coon Rapids Monday. The 12-bed facility offers young people from 18 to 25 years old a studio apartment in a building that includes a fitness room, computer lab, laundry facilities and a common television area. Residents can live there for up to two years while they research work options, finish school and establish a rental history.
“The goal is for them to be on a career path — not just a fast-food job,” said Lisa Jacobson, executive director of the nonprofit HOPE 4 Youth, which runs the place.
Young people also will take life-skills classes on topics that include cooking and budgeting.
HOPE Place is one of a growing number of places serving homeless youth across the metro area, from Brooklyn Park to St. Paul.
There’s a critical need for this type of housing in the north metro, said Karrie Schaaf, Anoka-Hennepin School District’s homeless liaison. During the 2015-2016 school year, more than 1,300 youths — from birth to 21 years old — were identified in the district as homeless, Schaaf said. Of those, 355 were unaccompanied, or kids living on their own without a parent or guardian. Those numbers keep rising, she added.
Unaccompanied youths up to age 24 make up 16 percent of Minnesota’s overall homeless population, according to a recent study by Wilder Research.
“This is more than overdue,” Schaaf said. “We don’t have enough of this kind of housing available.”
In Coon Rapids, HOPE 4 Youth spent about $900,000 to overhaul the 11,000-square-foot site that once housed Stage Door dance studio as well as a child-care facility. Each apartment comes furnished and includes a private bathroom and kitchen already stocked with colorful Tupperware and basic cooking supplies. A shower caddie filled with toiletries awaits the residents, some of whom could move in as early as next week.
Created in 2013, HOPE 4 Youth also runs a drop-in center in Anoka, where clients can grab clean clothes, take a shower and eat a hot meal. The nonprofit originally had considered adding an overnight shelter to its Anoka drop-in center location, but met resistance from the city, which passed a moratorium on new homeless shelters.
But the nonprofit’s leaders say its new spot in Coon Rapids is ideal for young people settling into careers. With Northtown Mall nearby, job options and public transit routes are within walking distance.
Placement into HOPE Place is coordinated through the county, where 53 youths are now on the housing priority list. About 23 of those are in need of transitional housing.
“It will fill very quickly,” said Sara Kemp, director of programs and properties at HOPE 4 Youth. “A lot of these young people are coming from the streets or from living in cars. It’s going to be very emotional.”