Angelique Ford showed up looking for help on the edge of downtown Minneapolis, with only a suitcase and $60.
Inside YouthLink, she found a one-stop shop for homeless teens like her, providing essentials from free meals, lockers and showers to housing assistance.
“I’ve never heard of a program like this in my life,” said Ford, who is now 23 and works as an outreach worker at the nonprofit, helping teens in situations like she was in a few years ago. “It’s empowering; who thought you could come to this place and get all of these resources?”
The center, the largest and longest-running drop-in center for homeless youth in Minnesota, is expanding its services to help more teens and young adults after completing a $6 million fundraising campaign and a major renovation.
On Wednesday, elected officials, staff and supporters celebrated the makeover and the end of a three-year fundraising campaign, which wrapped up last fall with a $1.4 million donation from the Golden Valley-based Peter J. King Family Foundation. The nonprofit honored that “milestone gift” by rededicating the building, located off Linden Avenue W. near Interstate 394, with the foundation’s name.
The former jewelry factory, once known for its dark, windowless rooms with raggedy couches, has been transformed with windows, skylights, an open design, colorful walls and new carpet. The renovation, which finished a year ago, means more space to cook free meals, more rooms for mental health counseling and a new career center.
“It’s a really historic day,” said Heather Huseby, the executive director.
Homelessness has reached a record high in Minnesota, according to a report this year by Wilder Research. Youth under the age of 24 make up nearly half of the state’s 10,200 homeless people, and the number of homeless youth on their own increased 1% in 2018.
More homeless youth drop-in centers and shelters have opened up recently — from St. Cloud to Duluth. And more communities are adopting the drop-in model, Huseby said, since it helps teens more holistically by connecting them to services and other nonprofits.
“They’re a hidden population,” Huseby said of homeless youth. “It’s a problem we think we can solve.”
YouthLink has grown since starting in Minneapolis four decades ago as a city and Hennepin County program. Now, the nonprofit works with nearly 2,000 people, ages 16 to 24, each year and about half of its revenue comes from the city, Hennepin County and the state. YouthLink operates programs at four housing facilities, including the newest one, Downtown View — a 46-unit building opened last year by Project for Pride in Living next to the drop-in center.
There’s space in the renovated drop-in center for clients to take art classes, pick up donated clothing and visit a food shelf.
“We’ve come so far,” said Jose Acuña, the outreach supervisor.
Each week, Ford and other outreach workers fan out across downtown to hand out fliers and basic essentials like toothbrushes and socks at light rail stations, the Minneapolis Central Library and Nicollet Mall. She said she’s met teens who were kicked out by their parents after coming out as gay or transgender. Other teens don’t have any family support. Some teens are just too proud to ask for help, said Derion Enge, 21, another outreach worker.
“They’re used to surviving,” Enge said.
He, too, was determined to make it on his own after moving to Minneapolis a year ago, but he said he slept in his car or couch-surfed to make ends meet. After a Bloomington-based nonprofit, Oasis for Youth, helped connect him to YouthLink, he now has his own apartment and works several jobs.
“It really did change my life,” he said. “I can help the next person; just believe in yourself a little more.”