The years between 18 and 24 are filled with challenges and hard choices. A lot of people struggle as they take steps into adulthood. Add to that swirl of drama and stress the additional worry of waking up every morning unsure of where you will be sleeping that night and the challenges become even harder to face. Housing advocacy groups like Beacon believe a stable home is essential—for everyone.
Beacon is a collaborative organization of Twin Cities congregations working together on issues of housing, shelter and advocacy. Founded in 1999, Beacon has been actively building or preserving affordable housing for homeless families, youth and adults. Beacon has created almost 500 homes for about 800 people across the metro area. Its most recent project is 66 West in Edina.
The Edina project offers 39 studio apartments for southwest suburban youth and young adults who have experienced homelessness. In some ways, the building operates like any other apartment building. Residents are responsible for their homes and encouraged to learn the accompanying life skills. But there are also support services available. There are five fulltime staff members on site who can provide advice and direction and who also organize community activities.
Social workers and other service providers working in the area estimate there are between 200 and 300 youth who are homeless or at risk in the southwestern suburbs. Before 66 West opened its doors, there was little or no supportive housing in the area.
Lee Blons is the executive director of Beacon. She says when the organization first approached the Edina City Council about addressing homelessness in the city they discovered several members of the council had personal experience with a homeless young person attending Edina schools.
“There were members of the city council who had been in mentoring roles at Edina High School,” Blons says. “They had worked with students who struggled with getting assignments in on time and tardiness.” As they gained the trust of the students, the mentors learned these students were putting together a patchwork of places to stay each night, sometimes with long, unfamiliar commutes to get to school the next morning.
“We didn’t have to convince the city council that there was homelessness in Edina,” Blons says. “They had already seen it.”
The next step was getting community financial support for the project. The lead congregational partner for 66 West is Edina Community Lutheran Church, with strong support from Church of St. Stephen’s, Edina; Richfield United Methodist Church; and Lutheran Church of Christ the Redeemer, Minneapolis. Other community organizations have been essential as well. “The Edina Rotary has been a key supporter,” Blons says.
Community support for this project is, of course, important to its success. It is also meaningful to the young people who call it home. At the grand opening of 66 West, the first residents spoke about the difference having a home had made in their lives. Danae Gilbert said what this new home meant to her was “that something or someone out there believes in me.”