A nonprofit helping homeless youth in Anoka County could open an overnight shelter by the end of the year after surpassing its $1 million fundraising goal.

John Sitarz, fundraising coordinator for the Hope 4 Youth drop-in center in Anoka, said the organization is currently looking at facilities in Blaine and Coon Rapids with enough space for up to 20 beds.

“It’s cold outside, so we are moving as fast as we can to get something up and running by August,” he said.

Meanwhile, in Brooklyn Park, the first homeless youth shelter in the Twin Cities suburbs is to open at the end of this month, said Kim Berggren, the city’s community development director.

In Anoka, Hope 4 Youth opened its doors in March 2013 and offers hot meals, a place to do laundry, and storage for belongings. However, it is only open five hours a day.

Sitarz launched the $1 million fundraising goal in November, saying that if he failed to raise the funds by Jan. 1, he would sleep outside.

Hope 4 Youth, whose lease in Anoka expires in a year, asked to add an overnight shelter in December 2013 but ran into resistance. At that time, the City Council voted to put a moratorium on any new shelters, pending further study.

The situation may be moot now, as Sitarz said a facility in either Blaine or Coon Rapids would be more centrally located within the county, making it more accessible for youth. Sitarz doesn’t know if Anoka plans to renew Hope 4 Youth’s lease.

Karrie Schaaf, homeless youth and families liaison for the Anoka-Hennepin School District, said a shelter in the north suburbs is critical. There are currently about 150 unaccompanied youth, on their own, experiencing homelessness in the district, Schaaf said. Each year the number of youth experiencing homelessness in the school district has grown, she added.

Meeting the fundraising goal was great, but “it’s only a starting point,” because the $1 million is not enough to open and operate an overnight shelter, Schaaf said.

New shelter in north suburbs

In Brooklyn Park, the Brooklyn Avenues homeless youth shelter is about to open after five months of construction. It’s a 12-bed, 5,000-square-foot shelter and transitional housing program for people ages 16 to 21.

The facility will include shared bathrooms, staff offices, a commercial kitchen, youth computer lab and living and dining rooms. The average stay could be three to six months but may be as long as 18 months.

The Brooklyn Park Economic Development Authority spent about $950,000 to design and build the shelter. The city will lease it to Minneapolis-based Avenues for Homeless Youth for $1 per year; the organization will operate the shelter and transitional housing program.

The community effort began more than four years ago, when Brooklyn Park saw an increase in homeless youth and sex-trafficking in the northwest suburbs.

Currently, Minnesota has about 120 emergency shelter beds, mostly in Minneapolis and St. Paul, and about 600 beds for transitional housing with longer-term, supportive services for homeless youth.

Sitarz said it’s not enough, “we are still in desperate need for beds.”

“[We are] very, very, very limited in what we have in Anoka County, so we have to take steps today to make sure we are going in the right direction for these kids,” he said.


Twitter: @KarenAnelZamora