In cities across Minnesota, community leaders are boosting resources for homeless teens.
From St. Cloud, where a teen resource center will open in February, to Duluth, which plans to open a shelter for teens soon, outstate cities are addressing a problem that extends far beyond the Twin Cities.
Nearly 40 percent of homeless young people in Minnesota live outside the Twin Cities and its suburbs, according to Wilder Research.
"I call them the invisible population," said Michelle Decker Gerrard of Wilder Research, who led a study on homeless youth that was released earlier this year.
Because it's difficult to track the homeless, data varies.
The Wilder study found that 1,463 unaccompanied young people were homeless statewide in 2015, with most being 18 to 24 years old. But researchers say more teens likely weren't counted and estimate Minnesota's unaccompanied young homeless population tops 6,000 people 24 and younger.
This month, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released a report with new data that puts the estimate of unaccompanied homeless people in Minnesota this year at nearly 900 who are 25 and younger.
"It's just a growing awareness [that] the needs of youth are different," Gerrard said.
The state Department of Human Services says more than 70 programs across Minnesota work with young people, providing outreach and housing.
In St. Cloud, local Rotary clubs are teaming up to open a "youth opportunity center," Pathways 4 Youth (P4Y), to help people ages 16 to 23. The 3,700-square-foot center will be in the Youth for Christ building at 203 Cooper Av. N. While it's not a shelter — there are a few homeless shelters in the area — it will connect teens to social services, classes, showers, food and clothing.
Officials estimate up to 150 16- to 23-year-olds are homeless in St. Cloud each day.
"We just knew … there's a gap in the St. Cloud community that didn't provide that need," said Tim Wensman of the local Rotary Club. "Our program is going to be geared to getting these youth back on a pathway to end youth homelessness."
The center will open in February with help from HOPE 4 Youth in Anoka. Operating expenses and the cost for several staffers will be funded by the Rotary Club of St. Cloud, the Granite Rotary Club, the Great River Rotary Club and the St. Cloud Rotaract Club. A caseworker from Catholic Charities of the Diocese of St. Cloud also is expected to work there.
Meanwhile, in Duluth, a ribbon-cutting took place this fall for a new emergency shelter that is expected to open sometime soon (no date has been set) for teens 15 to 19.
While there are two other shelters for teens, the Loft Shelter, sponsored by the nonprofit Life House, will be the first shelter in Duluth dedicated to teens in that specific age group.
"Homelessness in Minnesota, particularly in northern Minnesota, isn't visible because it's so dang cold," said Maude Dornfeld, the organization's executive director. Teens can spend months on waiting lists for housing. Now, up to 10 teens will have another option for a place to stay for as long as three months. The Loft will operate at Life House at 102 W. 1st St., which also offers housing, a drop-in youth center and a mental health and wellness program.
The shelter is part of expanding resources for homeless teens in Duluth, where an estimated 100 young people are homeless each night.
"We're making a lot of progress in our community," Dornfeld said. "Our goal is to reduce youth homelessness so it's rare, brief and non-reoccurring."