A year after a drop-in center for homeless youths opened in a Stillwater church, a second one is set to open this month in Cottage Grove.
Like the center in Stillwater, the new site at All Saints Lutheran Chuch will be open one day a week for a few hours, offering food, personal care items and clothing to teens and young adults ages 13 to 24.
The hope is to add a shower and a washer and dryer, amenities that the Stillwater location has. The Cottage Grove center will open Sept. 17 and run from 3 to 6 p.m. on Tuesdays.
In its first year, the Stillwater drop-in center had 150 visits from 30 youths. Many ended up staying for an hour or two, said Cindy Parsons, director of the nonprofit St. Croix Family Resource Center of Stillwater, which runs the two centers.
“What the youth really need is to know that people care about them,” she said.
While staffers often hand out small gift cards for food, gas or groceries, Parsons said it’s clear that the young people coming in the door aren’t simply looking for a handout.
“They are coming and they are staying because they want to talk about their week and their goals,” she said. Volunteers have started hosting cooking, budgeting and car maintenance classes for those who stop in.
Parsons said she continues to hear from Washington County residents who are surprised to find out that their own communities have a homeless population.
“There are lot of people who are still unaware,” Parsons said. “But as soon as they hear it, there’s a passion and a desire to help.”
The primary reason for youth homelessness is family conflict, Parsons said. In addition to connecting young people with other community resources, staffers at the drop-in centers can help facilitate family reunification.
The Rev. Tanner Howard, associate pastor at All Saints, said he knows that the first few Tuesdays may not bring a single homeless teen to the center. Still, as word spreads, he hopes that awareness will as well.
The center will host an open house at All Saints, 8100 Belden Blvd., from 2 to 4 p.m. Sept. 10 for community members to tour the site and learn more about homelessness in Washington County.
The Stillwater location will host its own open house from 1 to 3 p.m. Sept. 12 at St. Paul Lutheran Church, 609 S. 5th St., to celebrate its anniversary.
The Cottage Grove center already has 25 people signed up to volunteer. A volunteer training session is planned from 6 to 8 p.m. Oct. 1 at All Saints.
Howard said he’s grateful for the community response and hopes it will lead to more homeless services and more conversations about the need for shelters in the area. Washington County has two shelters for a small number of homeless families but lacks an emergency shelter for individuals.
Because the county is geographically long and narrow, the new center will help serve young people in the southern part of the county who might not be able to get to Stillwater for help.
“The drop-in center is great and it’s important as a stopgap,” Howard said. “But this is a very early first step in our efforts.”