The shattering cold of last week blew in a renewed resolve at Hennepin County to help homeless young adults who don’t fit in shelters with adults or entire families.

The county has long been aware of the dearth of shelter beds for young adults on their own, but the deadly chills brought the problem new and, for some, welcome attention. Young adults from age 17 and into their early 20s don’t fare well at emergency shelters for chronically homeless adults, nor do they belong in shelters for families.

Hennepin County’s goal is to find an existing facility that has the proper zoning to provide temporary homes for young adults. The effort builds upon the joint 10-year drive by Hennepin County and Minneapolis to end homelessness.

That effort has made tangible progress among chronically homeless single adults and military veterans. Now attention will turn to tailoring programs to help young adults.

“They have so much hope,” County Commissioner Gail Dorfman said. “They want to work. They want to go to school. They want a place to live, and we have this window of opportunity to get them back on track.”

About 400 young adults are without permanent shelter every night in the entire Twin Cities. In the region, however, there are only 90 shelter beds to accommodate them.

When it’s warm, the young adults might sleep on the streets. When it’s cold, they find ways to stay warm. They find friendly bus drivers who let them ride for hours. They sleep in skyways. They couch-hop with friends. But some turn to “survival sex,” including prostitution, as a means to get out of the cold and make money.

During the day, young adults have a place to go. They can visit YouthLink at 41 N. 12th St. for a meal, a chance to do laundry, or to just relax or talk to a concerned adult. For three nights last week, the facility was able to stay open around the clock because of the extreme cold.

Heather Huseby, executive director of YouthLink, said 23 young adults came on the final two nights. The crisis “showed us there certainly is a need” for specific help for them, she said.

Shelter and direction

Giving young adults the peace of mind of a place to sleep would make it easier to help them find other services they need such as jobs, medical attention and education.

In 2012, 2,291 homeless young people ages 16 to 23 turned to YouthLink as a drop-in refuge. That number was up 27 percent from 2011.

Dorfman and Huseby both say the aim is to help these young adults veer away from a life of chronic homelessness or crime and that young adults typically need six months to two years of help to get on track.

The young adults on the streets are often at a crossroads, coming from abusive homes or having grown too old for foster care. Huseby said the idea is to provide them with a sustainable, supportive environment. “These are not charity cases. These are not youth that should be thrown away,” Huseby said, adding that with a little effort, they can change their trajectory. □