The clock is ticking on an ambitious plan for Hennepin County to quickly develop new strategies and partnerships for ending youth homelessness.
The goal is to find housing for 150 teens and young adults experiencing homelessness in just 100 days, while also placing more than 100 of them into secure employment. Hennepin County was one of five communities across the country to recently accept the 100-Day Challenge, a national project launched last fall to inspire new approaches to ending homelessness for teens and young adults.
“It’s hugely ambitious,” said David Hewitt, director of the Hennepin County Office to End Homelessness. “It will require a communal effort.”
Hewitt said the county’s goals are significant but “attainable.” When he announced county’s entry into the challenge Aug. 2, Hennepin County was already three days into the 100-day countdown, he said.
Steve Cramer, president and CEO of the Minneapolis Downtown Council, a sponsor of the 100-Day Challenge, said meeting the housing and employment goals would require a partnership between local government, businesses and nonprofits. Cramer described ending youth homelessness as “a moral imperative,” and said there was also a strong business case to be made for filling jobs with local talent.
Cramer said downtown hotels are experiencing a workforce shortage, so some are partnering to train and place “several dozen” young people in hospitality industry jobs.
“Already we have a couple of models that are making a dent,” he said.
The team working on the 100-Day Challenge includes two young women who found supportive housing through The Link, a local nonprofit that works with homeless and at-risk youth. One of them, Lele, connected with The Link in 2015 when she was coming out of treatment and found a place to stay in a Link-run housing program for youth in recovery.
Lele (who asked not to share her last name) said she is now two years sober and a 4.0 student at Minneapolis Community and Technical College. She said finding stable housing was an important first step for her.
“It’s a relief. It’s freedom,” she said. “It’s kind of unbelievable.”
Symmieona, 23, was homeless for five years and couch hopping before she found housing through The Link at age 20. The parent of a young daughter, Symmieona said stable housing made her a better mother.
Funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development with private philanthropic partners, the challenge launched last fall in three communities: Austin, Tex.; Cleveland; and Los Angeles. At the end of 100 days, those three communities had found housing for 428 young adults, although the counts from Cleveland and Los Angeles included transitional housing placements.
In addition to Hennepin County, the communities participating in this round of the 100-Day Challenge are Baltimore; Columbus, Ohio; Palm Beach County, Fla.; and Louisville, Ky.
A press conference to announce Hennepin County’s entry into the 100-Day Challenge was held against the backdrop of active construction near YouthLink’s North Loop headquarters building. In partnership with Project for Pride in Living, YouthLink is developing a five-story, 47-unit building for young adults experiencing homelessness. Ground was broken on the $17.8-million project in April, and its opening is expected in February.