Homes for the Holidays

MONDAY WAS MOVE-IN day at the Archdale, a first-of-its-kind apartment building in downtown Minneapolis devoted entirely to homeless kids--some now scattered at city shelters as winter comes on, some out on the street. All morning, folks unloaded donated mattresses and lamps, kitchen utensils and TVs from a fleet of delivery vans backed up and idling in the snow.

Somebody had taped a "wet paint" sign to the front door, and the smell of floor wax and sawdust hung in the main corridor. After months of planning and prep work, the Archdale's new decor--a mix of brilliant purples and golds--looked like a '30s era film set, something designed with deco in mind rather than the institutional drab of a typical bed-for-the-night urban shelter. "Living here'd be almost glamorous," Jermaine Prince, who'd stopped in to apply for a lease, said to nobody in particular. "Sure hope I get in, 'cause it's cold outside."

Getting in won't be all that easy. On a tour of the building's 26 studio and four one-bedroom apartments, program supervisor Thomas Adams laid out the ground rules: no drugs or alcohol on site, no tagging the walls, no overnight guests, no weapons, rent paid on time, and a steady job that brings in at least $540 a month. For those who get in, the facility will feature a round-the-clock support staff, help with résumés and tutoring, Internet access, hot showers, holiday parties, and the close company of other kids. With (by a low-end count) over 500 teenagers lacking reliable housing in the metro area, Adams says the rehabbed brownstone is one cure--and likely the model for more--for a growing blind spot in urban policy.

The Archdale began as a brainchild of the Central Community Housing Trust, which in the past decade has arranged apartments for well over 700 low-income and homeless adults. Cecile Bedore of CCHT recalls that in 1991, a local physician who'd been treating several HIV-positive kids found that most were homeless--that landlords wouldn't rent to them or, when they would, that rents were too high. He got in touch with CCHT and together they set up scattered-site quarters for about a dozen teenagers. It worked for a while, but not very well: The isolation and the loneliness, Bedore remembers, led most of the kids back to the street with their friends and, in turn, back to risky situations that frequently landed them in trouble with their families or the law.

CCHT bought the Archdale--a three-story walk-up near the Convention Center--in 1994 and has spent the past several months renovating the place with new fixtures, new furnishings, and a much needed systems overhaul. Start-up costs have run up a $1 million bill, footed in large part by the likes of the McKnight and Bush Foundations, Holiday Companies, HUD, and a slew of county agencies. When CCHT contacted The Bridge, a local kids' advocacy group with a 25-year track record, to supply the building's day-to-day management, the deal got a fast nod. The hope all around is that homeless kids will find in group living what's been missing for them in the past: neighbors, reasonable rules, and the freedom to come and go as they please in their own home.

"Right now, living with other kids like myself is key," Jermaine Prince said once the tour wound down in the community room on Monday. "I'm 16. I've been staying at temporary shelters, minding my Ps and Qs, working swings at McDonald's, getting money to my baby son, and thinking life's no game anymore. I've been on the street since I was 10--landed in this city when the car died on us. I've been out of school since the fourth grade, my dad's on crack, and I've been shot 17 times. The simple fact is I grew up fast: never had a bike, learned to tie my own shoes, get up on time, survive my own life. I've been staying on the down and low lately, putting the puzzle all together into a picture I can already see in my head." That picture, he added, before heading out into the morning storm, "looks a lot like this place."

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