Over the past three years two churches in the area have decided to help those who are dealing with homelessness, and the nonprofit Canvas Health is working to start a host home program for youth.
St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church in Mahtomedi and Guardian Angels Catholic Church in Oakdale have joined with their congregations to create programs to help families find their way out of homelessness. St. Andrew’s created the Community Resource Center (CRC) which provides job search support and helps guide individuals to resources that can help them, while Guardian Angels’ Hope for the Journey Home program provides lodging and shelter. The two churches have teamed up and work together to serve neighbors who are down on their luck. They’ve also created partnerships with 33 other churches throughout the area.
“We’ve only been open three years,” St. Andrew’s Pastor Sarah Breckenridge said. “When we were just starting, our timing was particularly good. With the recession and the hit in the economy, there were people here that lost their jobs and their spouse lost their job and they had no idea about where to go, because they never thought they would ever have to worry about something like this.”
Guardian Angels’ shelter used to be a priest’s house but was renovated to fit several families. It opened in fall of 2012.
“Members within our church were involved in the homelessness issues, and we had a great place that could be renovated,” Guardian Angels Justice and Outreach Coordinator Cheryl Peterson said. “They knew that the motels that the county uses to house people were under construction, and they wanted to help, so it was the perfect alignment for us to really live out our faith. The CRC needed space, and we worked with them to align our logistics. There’s no way that this effort could be undertaken without them.”
It was a good investment, because the locations have been highly used. St. Andrew’s, which straddles Washington and Ramsey County, served 419 people in 2013 with 27 percent of those served coming from Washington County. Guardian Angels has had an average of 70 percent occupancy in the rooms during the past two years, topping out at an occupancy rate of 92 percent in November 2013. An average stay is 38 days, according to Hope for the Journey Home volunteer coordinator Mike Fouts.
“People have a misperception that homelessness is only in inner cities, or older people or people with addiction issues,” Peterson said. “But our volunteers are seeing that families experience homelessness, and that they’re not completely different from them. We’ve had some volunteers tell us that ‘these kids are in my school.’ They’re realizing that it’s not … just numbers. I think it’s kind of helped people realize in this economy that people are only one paycheck away from catastrophe. One thing can go horribly wrong, and then all the dominoes can fall down.”
Overall the reception from the congregations has been positive. The churches provide several programs that can help people get back on their feet. Including busing to make sure kids don’t have to get up at 5:30 a.m. every day just to get to school, providing meals and shelter, budgeting classes, and refuge from the everyday stresses that the homeless deal with.
“It’s important that we do that so we can fill in the gaps and help our neighbors in need,” CRC director Kellie Cardinal said.
“One day is never the same as the next for me,” CRC case manager Kris Mason said. “We get the phone call from Washington County about someone who is homeless and needs our help and we pre-qualify them. Then we talk with them about how they got to where they are and work backward to direct them where they need to go. A lot of what I’m hearing is that they’ve recently lost their job, their lease was up, and they were unable to get to another house. For single parents there not a lot of support. We’re kind of the last of the line to step up and help them out. We create goal plans with them and talk through what needs to be done so they can reach their goals.”
In this partnership case management is handled at St. Andrew’s and a ministry of hospitality takes place at Guardian Angels.
“We think this is important because it gives people a break,” Peterson said. “When you’re homeless you’re somewhat under a microscope. People are always making sure you’re doing what needs to be done to reach your goals. Here we just get to love our neighbors.”
Although individuals don’t pay to stay at Guardian Angels and are allowed to stay for as long as it takes to find a new job, they are encouraged to put aside a certain percentage of income so that they can work their way to a more stable situation.
Canvas Health, a nonprofit with an office in Stillwater and other locations throughout the metro, is working to add another housing option specifically geared at youth in Washington County.
Cheryl Carrigan is a homeless youth coordinator with Canvas and works in Washington County. She is spearheading an effort to start a host home program in Washington County using a model that has seen success in other parts of the state.
She said the host home project is the most exciting and promising program she’s working on now.
The idea is that volunteers who are willing to open their homes receive training, and then a young person between the ages of about 16 and 23 would live with them for six to 18 months.
“The goal is that the kids become independent enough … that they can go out on their own,” Carrigan said.
She plans to schedule informational meetings for potential volunteers in the next month or two.
“Our goal is to have four by the end of 2014 strategically place throughout the county,” Carrigan said. “If we could get more, that would be a plus.”
The advantage of a host home program is that, ideally, youth can be placed in homes within their communities, so they can easily continue attending the same school and aren’t plucked from their support systems.
But Carrigan said such a program needs strong community support.
“It really has to come from the community saying, ‘I want to help,’” she said. “Community members come together and say, ‘You know, it’s not OK that I live in Bayport, and I have five bedrooms, of which only two are used, and I don’t open up my house.’”
Not everyone can be a host home, Carrigan realizes. But she said there are many ways to help, such as offering to help with transportation for a host home youth or donating $50 a month to help with costs.
She said she can also use donations for her day-to-day work. The most helpful donations come in the form of gift cards to stores such as Target, Walmart, gas stations and restaurants, as well cash donations to her flex account through Canvas.
“Every youth’s needs are incredibly different,” she said.
Although she’s grateful for the thought, she said food and clothing drives actually don’t help her much, because she doesn’t have anywhere to store the items.
But community volunteers and donations are important, for Carrigan and for the churches working with the homeless.
Volunteers are needed for everything from resume help and interview preparation training to spending time with parents and their kids to help create a community of support as people make their way on to an improved quality of life. Anyone who wants to get involved can likely find some way to do so.
To help or seek help from any of the organizations mentioned throughout this series:
375 E. Orleans St., Stillwater
Guardian Angels Hope for the Journey Home
8260 4th Street N
Oakdale, MN 55128
St. Andrew’s Community Resource Center
900 Stillwater Road Door #6
Mahtomedi, MN 55115
Monday through Thursday 8 a.m.-4 p.m.
1911 Curve Crest Blvd. West
Stillwater, Minnesota 55082
Business Hours: Monday, Wednesday and Friday: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Tuesday and Thursday: 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Client Service Hours: M, W, & F: 10 a.m. to noon
Tuesday and Thursday: 5-7 p.m.
Jonathan Young contributed to this report. This concludes The Gazette’s three-part series on homelessness in Washington County.