Cast Away

Hundreds of kids live on the streets of Minnesota. And so does their art.

The results look fragile, like baked dough, but the statues are amazingly durable. They bounce without scuffing whenever Josh or the Punisher drops one. Minutes after leaving OffStreets, the artists distribute the sculptures around downtown, with Michael Hoyt in tow. (Lyle decides to hang back at OffStreets, working on the computer.) Josh clacks away on his skateboard, which he tucks under his arm when we reach Nicollet Mall.

"It sucks, man, you can't skate on this street," he says.

"We used to come down here," says Hoyt, "when I was 15, 16, and it would just be skateboards everywhere. You'd meet up with gangs of kids and ride all day long."

Josh runs across the street to put a skateboard statue on the giant metal bird sculpture on the Mall. The Punisher puts a snail on a bus stop. Slowly, the pieces begin to form a breadcrumb trail back to OffStreets--a snowboarder on a pay phone, a scary head on a table at the News Room bar, a ghost on the sidewalk. Josh checks on a statue that looks like a bunny, left inside a hole in a brick wall during a previous distribution run. "It's still there," he says.

I ask the Punisher what he means about his changing luck. He mentions a cooking class he and Josh just finished, and offers his recipe for steak tips. Tonight, the crew will eat in style at Buca, celebrating the completion of the sculpture project with Suzy Greenberg, whose residency has come to an end. Hoyt says it's important to give these kids a sense of closure, which they lack in their experience, with adults coming in and out of their lives. Clients at the center are "aged out" when they turn 20, he says.

Crossing First Avenue, Josh circles the Punisher on his skateboard. When both of them are out of earshot, Hoyt says, "These two and Lyle, they watch out for each other. They run in packs, but just in a protective way, not like a gang. They got each other's backs."

No youth shelters are left in downtown Minneapolis. "There used to be one, House of Charity," says Hoyt. "Around the turn of the year, in December, they lost funding for their youth-designated beds, so they had to close those rooms down. Funding just got really difficult this past year." (In Duluth, I find out later, the Renaissance youth shelter is scrambling to replace recently cut state and federal funding.)

"There's a lot of adult shelters," Hoyt continues. "But I don't know..." He raises his voice so that Josh and the Punisher can hear him. "How do you guys feel about places like Harbor Light?" He's referring to the Salvation Army's downtown shelter.

"Harbor Light, yeah, I stayed there once," says Josh.

"What did you think of it?" says Hoyt.

"People got into fights for the stupidest things over there."

Josh skates ahead, and Hoyt points to some buildings turning red in the late afternoon. "It's actually right over there, right behind that parking ramp," he says. "Sometimes at night when we're driving youth around that don't have a place a stay, we'll hit some of the adult shelters, when all of the youth shelters are filled up. If we go on an outing, I don't bring youth that haven't secured a place to stay. But sometimes they slip in, and then at 10 or 11 at night they're like, 'I don't have a place to stay.'

"Then you're scrambling and driving around. But I'd rather drop a kid off at Hard Times Cafe than drop him off at Harbor Light sometimes. Depends on how secure I think they're going to be. 'Cause some of them are vulnerable. I think there's a lot of adults that would prey on them."

 

When we get back to OffStreets, the group walks into the big, all-purpose front room, which is crowded with young people relaxing on couches near a fish tank and in a row of lunch tables with hot cafeteria food.

After Hoyt rounds up a few other participants in the sculpture program, we all head out for dinner and eat too much ravioli. I take a group portrait with a disposable camera afterward, and everyone says their goodbyes--except Josh and the Punisher, who have challenged each other to a game of pool back at Hope Street. They head off together to catch the bus, Josh back on skateboard.

Early the next morning, the following sculptures have been blown, or thrown, into the gutter or the street: the cow's head, an anguished face with its tongue sticking out, and a heart with angel wings. But the bunny is still there sitting in his brick wall, sheltered from harm.

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