Lutherans in Minnesota

Homeless youth find acceptance, support at LSS

Most Lutherans are aware of the issue of youth homelessness. However, many
don’t know the magnitude of the problem. “There are 1,800 homeless youth
on any given night in the state of Minnesota — a daunting number until we
reflect on the millions of caring households we have in Minnesota, said
Kirsten Anderson-Stembridge, director of advocacy at Lutheran Social Service
of Minnesota. “We at LSS are resolved to work with congregations and
communities statewide to pursue an end to youth homelessness.”

Awareness of the problem was heightened January 21 when 100
organizations statewide hosted “house parties” to view a new Twin Cities
Public Television documentary called “Homeless Youth: Finding Home.” It was
a timely series of events, since Minnesota’s legislature is facing a budget
shortfall that could cut into health and human services.

Nativity Lutheran Church (ELCA) in St. Anthony, Minnesota, hosted a large
house party with 150 in attendance. Pastor Glenn Seefeldt of Nativity Church
reminded, “Ending youth homelessness starts in each of our homes and each
of our lives as we reach out to youth in our communities — know their
names, learn their stories, and extend safety, support, and encouragement to
all youth.”

Pastor Seefeldt observed that sometimes adults are intimidated by youth
(tattoos and body piercing) and avoid eye contact. Youth are also intimidated
by adults. He mentioned a Search Institute study indicating how important it
is to youth that adults know their names and address them by name.

He said that Nativity Church has a theme that goes like this: “Find a need and
fix it. Discover a hurt and heal it.” He said at the conclusion of the Nativity
house party each person was encouraged to identify something they could do
about homelessness and to do it.

The demographics of homeless youth (as compiled by the Minnesota
Department of Human Services) are somewhat startling:

* The average age is 16.
* 54 percent of homeless youth are from greater Minnesota.
* 88 percent of homeless youth are enrolled in school.
* 13 percent of homeless youth have children.

The challenges working with this population include the following:

* 53 percent of homeless youth have been physically abused.
* 36 percent have been told by a medical professional in the last two years
that they have a serious mental health problem.
* 39 percent of girls report being sexually abused.
* 14 percent have traded sex for food, money, shelter, clothing, and other
essentials.

Many of the youth have experienced out-of-home placement. Seventy
percent of homeless youth and young adults have experienced a placement
in a foster home, group home, treatment center, or correctional facility. Two
out of five have lived in a foster home. One in three have run away from a
placement.

House party attendees were encouraged to contact their state legislators and
sign up to receive action alerts on this problem and become active in a
program to end youth homelessness called Youth Moving Forward: Working
Together to Ensure Stability, Opportunity, and Connection.

Additional information and copies of the Homeless Youth: Finding Home DVD
are available from Kirsten Anderson-Stembridge at kanderso@lssmn.org or
651/969 -2354. Anderson-Stembridge said, “We encourage congregations to
use this wonderful [DVD] tool to learn more, and to invite parishioners to join
LSS and our growing chorus of voices resolved that we can and we will end
youth homelessness.”