“This puts the resources right in the hands of the youth who need it, as well as the social workers, anybody looking for a youth resource, in one solid format,” said Ali Kier, youth response center supervisor at The Bridge for Youth. “You’re not going from one Web page to another or making multiple phone calls to see what is available at a time of crisis and it can keep things from escalating.
“Even if there isn’t a shelter opening or a service available, the user can be notified by text immediately when a bed or a service is available. You don’t have to wait for a phone call. It’s not just youth services, but also parental support that will help the youth and family. There’s a lot of different layers with this tool.”
The Youth Services Network (ysnmn.org) is a collaboration of 12 nonprofits, including The Bridge and Avenues for Homeless Youth.
“We don’t have a hard time finding clients,” said Deborah Loon, executive director of Avenues for Homeless Youth. “This is about making it a lot easier to find the services that fit them when they need them.”
This innovation is designed to get vulnerable young people off the streets and out of harm’s way, keep them from exploitation by predators and lessen the need for police intervention. The tool also is available to outreach workers, school counselors, librarians and other adults who work with those roughly in the 12-to-20 age group targeted by the agencies.
The Youth Service Network application, built with a $115,000 grant from the Target Foundation, also will help the nonprofit agencies and local governments gauge the size of the homeless problems for young people and where there is a need to expand or contract, such as more beds in the suburbs, home to about half the boys and girls who go homeless.
Loon and others in the homeless-youth business came up with the idea for the application when they realized how much time agencies were spending online and on the phone just trying to connect young people and families with beds and counseling and health services.
“Business understands how technology can work on behalf of consumers and clients,” said Dan Pfarr, executive director of The Bridge. “And we nonprofits compete for funders. But we saw a need here for ‘coopition’ rather than competition.
“And this community will fund things if they understand the need.”
Ysnmn.org displays all the youth-specific shelters in the Twin Cities, where beds are available, how to contact the agency and the bus route to take to get there, in addition to drop-in centers, street and school outreach workers by county and their numbers, and other time-critical services, such as health clinics and food shelves.
The application can be found at Apple or Google Play stores for free download.
It’s estimated that up to 12,000 children in Minnesota have experienced at least one episode of homelessness and up to 4,000 kids don’t sleep at home on any given night.
These nonprofit agencies provide safe, supportive havens for young people who are estranged from their families. And they also work to bring together young people and parents to try to help resolve the conflicts, through counseling, and move toward reconciliation and healthier relationships.
Youth Services Network members include Ain Dah Yung Center, Avenues for Homeless Youth, The Bridge for Youth, Catholic Charities Hope Street, Face to Face, Hope 4 Youth, Lutheran Social Service, Oasis for Youth, Salvation Army Booth Brown House, the Streetworks Collaborative, Teens Alone and YouthLink.