The Suburban Host Home Program facilitates temporary housing for youths in an "array of horrendous situations."
Late last year, Brooklyn Center resident Robert Brentrup and his partner, Chuck Clingman, agreed to temporarily take in a homeless teenager through the Suburban Host Home Program, which facilitates such arrangements.
The teen, a high school senior whose name couldn't be used because of the program's confidentiality terms, plans to attend a community college in the fall. Right now, she's saving money from her part-time job to go to the prom, said Brentrup.
"She's bright, funny and has goals," he said, adding that she's pretty self-reliant, even doing her own cooking.
Avenues for Homeless Youth, a north Minneapolis nonprofit organization that provides transitional housing and supportive services, coordinates the program through which a homeless youth can arrange to stay with a host for six to 18 months.
On May 15, the organization is hosting an informational session about the program at Brooklyn United Methodist Church, 7200 Brooklyn Blvd., Brooklyn Center. It will take place at 6 p.m.
"A lot of people tell us how much they admire us for doing this," Brentrup said. "They don't realize how little effort is needed."
Occasionally, the couple will give their young housemate a ride to or from work, and they like to go to the theater together for fun.
But it's more about the fact that "she needs a roof, a stable address and a place where her stuff will be safe," Brentrup said. "It's fairly simple things that make a big difference."
Already the couple is planning to host another homeless youth. "This is a feet-on-the-ground kind of volunteer thing, a chance to impact one life," and to see the results, Brentrup said.
Finding a home
Avenues modeled the suburban program after its similar GLBT-focused housing initiative, which it started in Minneapolis in 1997, according to program manager Jenny Lock.
The suburban program launched in 2011, while the organization rolled out the Minneapolis Host Home Program last month, she said.
Case managers who work at various community locations usually refer the youth to the program. They range from 16 to 21 years old, Lock explained.
Youth who wind up in the program get to choose their host home, which is "very empowering for them," said Lock.
In contrast to foster care, hosts are unpaid, and they're vetted through a different process, she said.
Already, the program has exceeded its goals in terms of host family applications, she said.
Not just an urban problem
The Avenues program is one response to the growing problem of youth homelessness across the state. Between 2006 and 2009, the state saw a 46 percent increase in unaccompanied homeless youth ages 12 to 21, according to Lock, who cited Wilder Research.
It's a disturbing trend that affects the suburbs, including the north metro. "The idea that it's an urban problem is no longer the case," she said.
Circumstances vary, but many come from families who've lost their homes to foreclosure.
Sometimes a parent or guardian struggles with a chemical addiction or mental health issues, or there may be a family conflict. For example, a young person may be kicked out of his or her home after coming out as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender (GLBT). Or after becoming pregnant.
Very few are so-called "runaways."
"Most of these young people are homeless through no fault of their own," Lock said.
To graduate from high school, maintain much-needed relationships and move into stable young adulthood, "staying in their home community is critical," she said.
Pastor Rachel Morey of Mosaic, which is housed at Brooklyn United, where the informational session is being held, said it's an issue that the congregation is focused on trying to help resolve.
Mosaic is also a community partner to the suburban program, and to the No Hassles Youth Food Shelf, which shares the building. It means that "we see these kids firsthand," she said.
It's a problem with no easy solutions. "These kids are in a diverse array of horrendous situations," she said. "We need everyone on board to fix it."
For further information about the Suburban Host Program, go to www.suburbanhosthome.org or call 612-522-1690. Anna Pratt is a Minneapolis freelance writer.