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Evergreen Community Services: Organization focuses on youth, preserving families

Ten years ago, Evergreen Community Services opened its offices in the Bridgman Center.

Now, the program has outgrown the roughly 5,000-square-foot office suite in the center, located at 1418 Bemidji Ave. N.

"Staff are doubled up in small offices, essential program supplies have taken over the break and equipment room and there is limited space for new programs and drop-in clients," said Beth Warrick, ECS program director, in a recent Evergreen newsletter.

ECS is part of Evergreen House, a community-based organization that focuses on strengthening youth and preserving families. Evergreen House also includes Evergreen Shelter and Evergreen Youth Recovery House.

"We've definitely outgrown the space," Becky Schueller, executive director of Evergreen House, said of the ECS offices.

Also, Evergreen House has a new vision for the role ECS plays in supporting youth in their transition into adulthood.

As a result, Schueller said, Evergreen House is looking for a new site to co-locate its ECS offices with transitional housing for older adolescents and young adults. She said research demonstrates that people are more successful in mastering independent living when services are combined with housing.

"The easy access to services is important," she said.

Schueller said the ideal site would include a 15,000-square-foot building for ECS offices and space for, initially, about 20 transitional housing units.

As one of its services, ECS provides transitional housing assistance to homeless older adolescents and young adults - including those who are pregnant or parenting - through age 21. The housing sites are currently scattered throughout the community with private landlords.

Already serving up to 80 youth households, ECS currently has a waiting list of more than 50 youth. One of the reasons for the waiting list, Schueller said, is ECS has only two housing case managers, and ECS is committed to intensive case management.

A new $1 million grant will help. Schueller said Evergreen House received notice in December that it was awarded a federal Transitional Living Program grant for $200,000 per year for the next five years that will support the ECS Transitional Housing Program. The grant, she said, will allow ECS to hire up to two new housing case managers and help provide financial assistance to youth for transitional housing.

Meanwhile, she said, Evergreen House has been working for a year to identify youth needs and program and service priorities for the new site where it would co-locate ECS offices with transitional housing.

Schueller said Evergreen House is open to either adaptive reuse of an existing facility or building a new facility due to energy efficient savings.

"We invite community members who are interested in helping with this project to contact us," Schueller said.

People interested in helping may call Warrick at 751-8223.

New center to open

Later this month, Evergreen House plans to open a new street outreach drop-in center in the former MTM Video location on the corner of 15th Street Northwest and Bemidji Avenue North. The center, which will not be an overnight shelter, initially will be open 20-25 hours per week.

Matt Hanson, a street outreach worker, said Evergreen's Street Outreach Program serves homeless and couch-hopping youth ages 10-21. It offers food assistance and provides items including hygiene products and clothes.

At the center, youth will also have computer access. One of the goals, Schueller said, is that it will be a resource for youth to find jobs and finish their education.

The Street Outreach Program - currently housed in the ECS office suite - started roughly 10 years ago.

Hanson and Schueller said the drop-in center will be a safe destination for youth in need to get some basic emergency needs met and help them move forward with the next step in their life in a positive way.