The icy cold and wind outside helped lawmakers and social service advocates punctuate their message Tuesday about youth homeless in Minnesota and the need to increase state funding to confront it. More than 2,000 children and young adults scramble nightly to find shelter under bridges or in cars or with friends, said Maykao Hang, CEO of the St. Paul-based Wilder Foundation.
"Tonight," she said at a Capitol press conference, "we will fail them again."
Hang and others called on the legislature to commit $8 million in additional funds to reducing youth homelessness -- an amount originally called for when lawmakers passed a youth homelessness bill in 2007. Rep. Laurie Halverson, DFL-Eagan, went as far as saying the added funding could "solve" the problem of youth homelessness in the state. She is the lead sponsor of the funding bill introduced in the legislature this session.
Funding would be earmarked for early intervention and prevention services such as counseling to help troubled families and keep them intact or safely reunite them. More than half of homeless youth in Minnesota were asked to leave their family homes or locked out. A third tried to avoid homelessness by staying in abusive situations.
"The problem of youth homelessness is one that can absolutely be solved," Hang said. "We know how to do this ... One of the greatest threats is if we accept homelessness as being inevitable."
But the problem has grown worse; a Wilder survey estimated a 46 percent increase in youth homelessness in Minnesota from 2006 to 2009. High rates of homeless youth are physically or sexually abused. And while 90 percent are still enrolled in school, only around half attend classes. Rates of suicide and untreated mental disorders are also high in this population.
Nineteen-year-old Corey Blevins spoke at the press conference in favor of the funding. She became homeless at 16 because of physical and emotional threats she faced in her mother's home. She started crying at the thought of all of the support she received from YouthLink and other programs. She now has a job and an apartment and will be studying at the University of Minnesota this summer.
"I'm just so optimistic about my future," she said. "There was a time when I could not really see that."