About “Finding Home”
The WBUUC Social Action Committee carried out an in-depth study of homelessness in the northeast metro suburbs, via meetings with local community experts, social service agency resources, service providers, and others. The northeast suburban area, and Washington County in general, severely lacked resources and support systems for homeless people, with essentially no services for homeless and at-risk youth. This was true in spite of the fact that the three most nearby public school districts continue to track in excess of 400 homeless students within their student bodies. The Social Action Committee authorized the formation of a Task Force, charged with identifying specific actions that could be taken, with three important criteria: the work must meet significant community needs, it must allow church members to engage in a wide variety of ways, and it must allow and support broad collaboration with others in the broader community.
Key areas of effort:
The first of these, Advocacy work toward greatly increased state funding for affordable housing and support services for the homeless, began immediately. In collaboration with Beacon Interfaith (an organization connecting over 30 metro area churches in work related to homelessness), we provided information and helpful tools to enable church members to write, phone, and/or call upon their legislators. In the first year of this effort the emphasis was upon a goal of a $100 million bonding bill related to state support for affordable housing, a goal that was achieved. In the second year, the emphasis was on spending bills to support increased services for homeless people, and again was a successful effort. This year, there will be effort to re-introduce legislation that was lost in the confusion of the end-of-year activity in the spring of 2016, again related to improved services for homeless, in connection with a state goal of eliminating homelessness by 2020.
The second area of effort has been to introduce to our area a program known as “Host Homes”. This is a foster parent-like initiative, in which caring adults open their home to a youth, for periods of a few months up to a few years. The “placement” of youth is unique in that it is youth-driven, an approach that has shown much-improved success when compared to conventional foster care placement arrangements. Educational efforts were carried out, training provided, and our church does now have one home with a formerly homeless youth in residence.
The third area chosen was that of opening a resource center specifically for homeless and at-risk youth. This would relate to young people in the age range from 13 to 24, and takes note of the research finding that intervention prior to age 25 can have a profound effect on breaking an otherwise chronic pattern of homelessness. The Task Force members did detailed studies of existing homeless youth centers throughout the broad urban area, visiting five different sites. In doing so, we were able to learn what sorts of services and supports were key, what physical facilities were important, what staffing would be entailed, and what kind of financial and donations support would be critical. Through a contact made by a church member, we began working with the staff at the Harriet Tubman Center East, a facility known for its focus on shelter and support systems for women and children who had experienced abuse, and which had indicated interest in hosting such a facility. Work was carried out to prepare and furnish the needed space, set up a system for donated supplies, and work with Tubman staff to train volunteers to help staff the center. Concurrent with these efforts were community outreach activities, to engage other area church groups and area civic groups in this work.
The resource center, also known as a drop-in center, is officially known as the North Star Youth Outreach Center, and it officially opened in June, 2016. It is a daytime facility, rather than an overnight shelter, and provides a safe, welcoming place, with snacks, showers, clothing, laundry and computer facilities, as well as many needed survival supply items. The Center is open weekdays from 3-7:00pm, and is staffed by a Tubman site supervisor and a group of about 25 volunteers, coming from our church as well as three other area churches. Members interested in visiting the Center are encouraged to do so, and learn about ongoing needs and volunteering opportunities.
We are beginning to see a flow of homeless and at-risk youth coming in for services, and expect to see this increase as “word of mouth” and other publicizing efforts increase, and as the weather becomes more challenging.