by Mike Knaak
A community problem that advocates say is largely hidden will soon get a highly visible solution.
Pathways 4 Youth, a resource center founded by central Minnesota’s Rotary clubs, plans an open house from 4-7 p.m. Tuesday, March 20.
The center, 203 Cooper Ave. N., Suite 206, St. Cloud will open for clients the week of March 26.
While not a shelter, the center will offer help for homeless youth ages 16-23 to get them on a path to educational and career success.
St. Cloud Rotary Club took on what Pathways board president Tim Wensman called a “signature project.”
“What if we could say there are no more homeless youth?” Wensman said.
Part of inspiration for Pathways came from board vice president Bill Maney during a mission trip to Guatemala. He heard a homeless person talk about his experiences.
“I said ‘we’ve got to do something,’” Maney said.
The Rotary members approached the project as a startup business by first visiting facilities in Duluth, Minneapolis, St. Paul, Elk River and Anoka.
The St. Cloud center is a replication of the Hope 4 Youth program in Anoka. As a part of the partnership, Hope 4 Youth provided programming and hired and trained the staff, according to Hope 4 Youth executive director Lisa Jacobson.
“We helped them pick a location and helped them design what each room needs to be,” Jacobson said.
Next the group gathered data by asking “Where did you sleep the night of Jan. 26, 2017.”
The research revealed 99 homeless youth ages 16-24 and an estimated 25-30 couch hoppers.
The youth were living in emergency shelters as well as temporary housing. But most were couch hopping – temporarily staying with friends or relatives – or staying in cars, portable toilets, tents and lean-tos.
The group found homeless young people from across central Minnesota including Sartell, St. Joseph, St. Cloud, Sauk Rapids, Waite Park, Kimball, Foley, Rice and Little Falls.
“Youth are a hidden problem,” Wensman said. “They are in every community. If you see a kid walking around with two backpacks, there is something going on.”
The research also found:
• 200 school-age homeless children in the St. Cloud school district;
• Within 24-48 hours of becoming homeless, youth are approached to take part in sex trafficking;
• St. Cloud has the second most sex-trafficked youth of all Minnesota cities.
• One in four homeless young people end up being homeless adults with a lifelong cost to society of $613,000.
Wensman said the key to the project’s successful launch has been its partnerships. In addition to St. Cloud Rotary, the Great River Rotary of Sartell and Sauk Rapids, Granite Rotary and Rotaract joined the effort with a total of more than 220 members.
The Rotarians also reached out to Stearns County Social Services, Catholic Charities and Youth for Christ.
Rotary members presented the plan to the community and were greeted with enthusiastic support. The effort raised $300,000 cash plus in-kind contributions from businesses and individuals. Volunteers spent thousands of hours since December remodeling the 3,600-square-foot space that once housed the Anderson Trucking offices.
“This is an essential investment in the community,” Wensman said.
The result is a center that will offer a wide range of services for youth when it’s open from 2-7 p.m. Monday through Friday.
“We want youth to know they are valued, trusted and we’ll work with them to rebuild their lives,” said board member John Bodette.
Services will include a nightly hot meal that will provide a chance to develop relationships and connect with mentors. Other services include a food pantry, showers, laundry, computers, clothes for job interviews, lockers and mailboxes.
Youth will be served by a full-time program coordinator and part-time volunteer coordinator.
Medical professionals will be available to help with health problems. Catholic Charities will have one full-time case worker on-site. Field outreach workers from Catholic Charities and Stearns County Social Services will have office space at the center.
The staff will be assisted by five or six volunteers each day.
The center is prepared to serve 25-35 people a day.
Pathways aims to help homeless youth with adult social skills such as how to balance a checkbook and prepare and dress for a job interview.
“Pathways uses our connections to help with education and jobs,” Bodette said. “We want them to get career jobs and help them on the track for training and placement. We’ll use our connections in the business community to get them jobs.”
Wensman expects the center will need about $135,000 per year to keep going. The fundraising plan includes donations from individuals, businesses and grants, and maybe helping youth develop a business that will bring in some money.
“If we get even one person on the path to education and a career job, the savings in public expenses will more than cover our expenses for the project,” Wensman said.
Pathways offers one-time and long-term volunteer opportunities. For more information go to www.pathways4youthmn.org or contact Katlyn to volunteer at 320-316-1637. To donate, contact Callie at 320-316-1635.
“I look at all the opportunities my family has had for education,” Maney said. “I look at these kids and it’s time to give back so they have the same opportunities for education and career jobs.”