Buoyed by a groundswell of community support, the Coon Rapids City Council approved 12 transitional studio apartments for homeless young adults on Tuesday night.
The nonprofit Hope 4 Youth will own and manage the apartments for people ages 18 to 24. The apartments, in an old dance studio near Northtown Mall, will be staffed 24 hours a day.
The goal is to help homeless young adults establish a rental history, find steady work and finish school.
In 2014, the newly formed Hope 4 Youth began operating a drop-in center in Anoka where homeless young adults can take a shower, do laundry, pick up food and talk with social workers, but it offered no overnight accommodations.
“We give them sleeping bags, toiletries and a snack and then send them out into the night,” said Hope 4 Youth Board Member Paul Ekstrom.
Volunteers and donors wanted to do more, so they began researching housing models. They toured emergency shelters, but decided that the apartment model would make the most difference.
“We decided helping out 12 the right way is better than helping out 23 the wrong way,” Ekstrom said.
The nonprofit decided to locate the apartment in Coon Rapids, after their first choice, Anoka, passed a moratorium on new homeless shelters.
As some of its members teared up with emotion, the Coon Rapids Planning Commission approved the apartments in September.
Hope 4 Youth is one of several new housing initiatives for homeless youth in the suburbs. Ekstrom said he sees a rising need and heightened awareness as fueling the trend.
“When I give talks and speeches, people are like, I had no idea there is this type of situation,” he said.
The nonprofit has a purchase agreement for the Coon Rapids dance studio, which was on the market for $500,000.
Ekstrom, a real estate agent, said the nonprofit will spend $500,000 to $700,000 to remodel the building.
Each apartment will be about 400 square feet, with a kitchen area and private bathroom, he said. The building will include a joint laundry facility, a snack kitchen, a computer lab, a lounge and offices for staff.
Young people could live there for as long as three years, Ekstrom said.
Eddie Rogers, a Hope 4 Youth case manager, said many of the homeless young people he sees couch-hop, sleep in vehicles or even sleep outside. That kind of day-to-day survival makes it hard for them to think about the future. The apartments will offer some safety and stability.
“They can feel safe,” Rogers said. “If you feel safe, you have a clear mind in the morning. You say, ‘I want to do something positive.’ ”