Avenues for Youth has been a critical resource for more than 6,000 youth for over 25 years. Photo courtesy of Avenues for Youth
The nonprofit Avenues for Youth provides youth experiencing homelessness with safe, age-appropriate housing and shelter options—something that is even more crucial during the COVID-19 pandemic.
With all of the shelter-in-place orders being announced across the country, it’s pretty obvious for many of us that there’s one thing to be doing right now: just stay home. But what about the population of people who don’t have homes to stay in? How do you avoid COVID-19 when you have nowhere to shelter in?
For more than twenty-five years, Avenues for Youth has been a critical resource for more than 6,000 youth, primarily ages sixteen through twenty-four, in Hennepin County. And now, during the coronavirus pandemic, its services are even more important.
“Our two homes in North Minneapolis and Brooklyn Park provide a home-like setting for thirty-three youth a night, and youth can stay for up to eighteen months,” says Katherine Meerse, executive director of Avenues for Youth. “Our young families program houses youth-led families in apartments and ConneQT, our host home program, and supports LGBTQI+ youth experiencing homelessness. In ConneQT, youth live with trained community members who are LGBTQI+ themselves or allies. Our programs are principles based, and offer supports like education and career development, therapy, guidance, and independent living skills.”
Avenues for Youth’s North Minneapolis house has twenty-one beds, and the Brooklyn Park house has twelve beds. The host homes and apartments are scattered throughout the Twin Cities metro area.
“Especially during times of crisis, it’s essential that our community’s youth have a place where they can be safe, have their basic needs met, and have guidance to help navigate life,” Meerse says. “Youth are resilient, and homelessness is just a part of their journey—Avenues for Youth is here to walk alongside them during that journey.”
Though Avenues for Youth needed to take some extra precautions in preparation for COVID-19, the nonprofit is still operating, with its doors still open 24/7, as they are 365 days a year. Meerse says, however, that they’ve had to limit the amount of people in their youth spaces, all staff who can work from home are doing so, and they have cancelled volunteering for the time being.
“We’re lucky to have a health and wellness team onsite, who have been educating youth on hygiene and best practices. Our mental health team has also increased their hours to help address youth’s mental health,” Meerse adds. “Self-isolating a young person who is already isolated and vulnerable can be detrimental to their mental health. We’re doing everything in our power to keep youth safe and healthy.”
While the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting us all, Meerse says she thinks it has different effects on nonprofit organizations like Avenues for Youth than other businesses, mainly in terms of finances.
“Our spring fundraisers have been cancelled or postponed, leaving a critical gap at a time when our costs are increasing. COVID-19 has already impacted us financially, and it could increase our costs by $6,000 a week,” she says. “We rely on the community for financial support, and that could be affected by the state of the economy.”
With an economic recession that was already brewing—made worse by the current pandemic and the government’s insufficient response to the gravity of the situation—communities like unsheltered youth are expected to get the worst of it.
“An economic downturn will hit communities we support the hardest,” Meerse notes. “Our youth are now unemployed, and many in the community could lose their housing because of this. So demand for our services is going up at the same time our funding is challenged.”
If you’re in a position where you are able to financially support Avenues for Youth, Meerse says the best way to show support is through donation. Thanks to some of the organization’s donors, each gift will be matched dollar for dollar, up to $45,000. You can support Avenues for Youth at avenuesforyouth.org.
One of Avenues for Youth’s biggest fundraisers is Building on Dreams, a networking meet and greet followed by a breakfast and program which was scheduled for June 8. But Meerse says the pandemic isn’t slowing them down.
“We are currently looking into ways to host the event virtually,” she says.
To learn more about Avenues for Youth and Building on Dreams, visit avenuesforyouth.org.
Avenues for Youth
1708 Oak Park Ave. N.