After bouncing from shelter to shelter for four years, 19-year-old Shataye finally has a place of her own to lay her head and help to get back on her feet.
Beaming with joy, she recently moved into a St. Paul apartment, one of 42 units at Mino Oski Ain Dah Yung, a new $13.6 million building that means “good new home” in Ojibwe.
Two nonprofits, the Ain Dah Yung Center in St. Paul and Project for Pride in Living in Minneapolis, unveiled the project last month — a first of its kind building in Minnesota offering permanent supportive housing for 18- to 24-year-old American Indians.
“It’s kind of turned my life around,” said Shataye, who is being identified by only her first name to protect her privacy. “It just opens up opportunities.”
As a growing number of American Indians in Minnesota struggle with homelessness, the nonprofits’ leaders hope the new four-story building off University Avenue will be a model for other projects.
Mino Oski connects homeless young adults to therapy and staff who help them find a job or enroll in school. But it’s also designed to re-establish and strengthen the cultural identity of young American Indians through classes such as beading and drum-making, a sweat lodge and a medicine garden with traditional tobacco, sage, cedar and sweetgrass.
“There’s nothing like it around,” said Deb Foster, executive director of the Ain Dah Yung Center. “We do not have enough places where our young people can first and foremost heal from the historical trauma that is still very present today. … They need to have a sense of identity, a positive sense of who they are.”
Americans Indians, like other people of color, are disproportionately affected by homelessness, poverty and unemployment in Minnesota. While they make up less than 2% of the state’s population, 12% of homeless adults in Wilder Research’s 2018 survey identified as American Indian — up from 8% in 2015. A report about homelessness on six of the 11 reservations in the state will be released in January, and researchers expect it will also show homelessness rising.
“There is a big need [for services],” said Michelle Decker Gerrard, senior research manager at Wilder Research, the research arm of the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation, citing American Indians’ historical trauma and higher likelihood of adverse childhood experiences.
A homeless encampment of tepees and tents along Hiawatha Avenue in Minneapolis, known as “The Wall of Forgotten Natives,” was a visible reminder of the problem last year. In September, the Red Lake Band of Chippewa and city broke ground nearby on a $35.8 million affordable housing complex called Mino-bimaadiziwin, Ojibwe for “the good life.”
Ain Dah Yung Center has run an emergency shelter for American Indian children in St. Paul for nearly 40 years.
It all starts with housing
The nonprofit also has prevention programs and legal services and operates transitional housing for 16- to 21-year-olds at a youth lodge. But after the temporary stay, many teens and young adults were ending up on the streets.
“This is one of the big gaps,” Project for Pride in Living CEO Paul Williams said of housing for 18- to 24-year-olds. “If you have stable housing, a lot of other things fall into place.”
Ain Dah Yung, which has 58 employees and a $1.7 million annual budget, set out to fill the missing link and raised nearly $4 million in donations for the new building and services. Of the $13.6 million cost to build the facility, $13.5 million was from the Metropolitan Council, city, county, federal and state government. The Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe and the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community donated the rest.
The result: a 50,000-square-foot building designed by a Native American architect from DSGW Architects, built by Loeffler Construction — a female- and Native American-owned company — and including Native American designs, from a tepee-inspired entrance honoring Sioux communities to seven totems representing the seven teachings of the Anishinaabe culture.
Inside, circular rooms that mimic the shape of a sweat lodge or a drum are used as teaching spaces, and a gallery features work by Native American artists. A community center also hosts events such as drum circles and round dances.
The building also creates a stronger American Indian presence in St. Paul.
“Minneapolis has Franklin Avenue,” Foster said. “When people think of St. Paul, they don’t think of St. Paul having an American Indian population because they don’t see us. … We wanted to build something that would represent the Native community.”
So far, more than a dozen residents have moved into the building, which is along the Green Line light rail, paying 30% of their income.
“The demand is overwhelming,” said Jacob Hustedt, Ain Dah Yung’s development director. “We’re going to be filled really quickly.”
For Shataye, the 19-year-old who’s been on her own since 15, having a stable home was her first step forward. She said she’s enrolled to start college in January and aspires to work in cosmetology or early-childhood development.
“I was in a very low point before,” she said. “I feel blessed. I’d definitely advocate for more programs like this.”