Addressing Youth Homelessness in the Suburbs

by Jenny Lock
February 07, 2012

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Jenny Lock, Program Manager for the Suburban Host Home Program of Avenues for Homeless Youth in Minnesota, shares her reflections on this a new program serving youth experiencing homelessness in the suburbs. The program is modeled after the GLBT Host Home Program. In her own words, Jenny shares her experiences serving youth experiencing homelessness.

I spent the last three years doing direct service work at a drop-in center for youth experiencing homelessness in downtown Minneapolis. I had the opportunity to learn the administrative side of the work. This combination prepared me for my current work.

The Suburban Host Home Action Council is a group comprised of people who work at three agencies serving youth: Teens Alone; Points Northwest; and Oasis for Youth. They joined together with concerned community members to address a problem that was not visible to many: youth experiencing homelessness in the suburbs. It had an organic beginning. People talked about their concerns. There were plans to build a shelter in Hennepin County, but they realized it was not feasible. Then they came to us to talk about the Host Home model.

The focus for the Suburban Host Home Program, is youth experiencing homelessness between the ages of 16 and 21. The program is small and targets youth experiencing homelessness with a specific geographical area where services are limited, and awareness has been non-existent: the suburbs.

Youth homelessness in Minnesota is increasing everywhere and has increased dramatically in the last three years. In addition, there are very limited services in suburban areas, so the idea is to have the services exist within the Suburban Host Home Program.

Currently, we have four host homes that have completed extensive interviews and trainings. We have one youth matched in a host home, another ready to match soon, and a third youth ready to match early in 2012.

Many of the youth who are finding their way to the Suburban Host Home Program return to their families. We see chaos and families that cannot provide care for the young people who end living on the streets as a consequence. We work closely with case managers who work with the youth. The case managers understand deeply what the youth have been through.

All our host home families have clear and realistic expectations around bringing a young person in need into their homes. They know it is not always going to be smooth sailing. I do one to two check-in calls per month to see how things are going. Once a month I do home visits.

Typically, the length of stay is 6 to 18 months. Most are seniors in high school. Another really interesting thing that has happened is that we have been able to educate people about the existence of youth homelessness in the suburban areas. Often people in the suburbs don’t think of youth poverty as their problem. My personal hope is that many of our youth who have hopes for education past high school can be partners and we can support their aspirations.

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