Good Intentions Aren't Enough to Solve Suburban Youth Homelessness


Writing for the New Yorker in 1999, Pulitzer Prize winning author Frank McCourt recounted a night class he taught for South American immigrant mothers at New York Community College. "No kid of mine is going to be yoot," one woman exclaimed.

What is a yoot? he wondered.

"Yeah, you know. Yoot." She holds up a newspaper blaring -- "Youth Slays Mom."

A youth. Like the kids in headlines packing heat, who sleep on the street, who ride the bus all night for the safety in public lighting.

What the 200 homelessness advocates that crowded the Minnetonka Community Center Thursday afternoon want to know is how to approach the homeless youth in the Twin Cities' western suburbs.

They're underground -- that's one thing the advocates are all clear on. Homeless kids attending the state's richest schools don't want to known as victims. They're selling you shoes at Footlocker and burgers as McDonald's, but when they're among their peers they're pretending to have loving families like all the rest. See also: Homeless Wait 8 Years for Shot at Life-Changing Housing Lottery

"What kind of world do we live in when we let our kids live on the street," asks Kristina Fruge of Faith Community Partnership in St. Louis Park. She's speaking to a conference full of experts with good intentions, older people who are armed with research saying homeless kids need mentors, yet are still struggling to actually reach out and touch the suburban kids who take to the streets after school lets out.

The keynote speaker of the West Hennepin Youth Resource Forum, a young homeless woman named Shae, didn't show because of some shit that blew up in her life last minute. But she did charge her Teens Alone social workers to say on her behalf that she is not pregnant, she is working, she is paying for her own food and making rent.

About 4,080 minors are without a home every night in Minnesota, according to a recent study, and 95 percent of those kids attend school.

The activists at the forum Thursday say the recurring problems homeless suburban kids face haven't changed in a long time -- drugs, poverty, mobility, abandonment that occurs when parents divorce or move out of state or when their homes burn down. The ones that get assigned to foster homes have no choice in who they live with and receive no direction on how to be productive adults when they graduate from the system.

"When community members choose to get involved they do step up," Fruge said before a panel of social workers. Is that message making it out to the kids who are working so hard to hide their homelessness? The advocates who met in Minnetonka want to know -- how do you curry the trust of kids who have long learned not to lean on anybody?

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