Transitioning from housing to home: Bemidji schools and shelters work together for area youth
BEMIDJI--Homelessness in Bemidji has been at the forefront of people's minds in recent days, months and years. But the face of a homeless person most people conjure isn't the face Angie Lauderbaugh and Becky Schueller see everyday--they work with...
BEMIDJI-Homelessness in Bemidji has been at the forefront of people's minds in recent days, months and years. But the face of a homeless person most people conjure isn't the face Angie Lauderbaugh and Becky Schueller see everyday-they work with Bemidji's youth.
While the public wonders how a new homeless shelter will impact the community, these women are focussing on how the youth will shape the future. Angie Lauderbaugh works with students attending Bemidji schools who are awaiting permanent housing. Becky Schueller is the executive director of Evergreen Youth and Family Services, where she makes sure some of Angie's students have a place to sleep when they get "home."
When school let out last year, there were 280 students who qualified for McKinney-Vento services, "a program that focuses on removing temporary barriers for families in housing transition so their children have the same opportunities as all students," Lauderbaugh said. So far she has identified about 100 students this year which puts her on track for a similar year-end total, Lauderbaugh said . The number usually doubles by year's end.
Students qualifying for McKinney-Vento services may be temporarily living in a shelter, living with friends or family while waiting for permanent housing or foster placement or living with family in transitional housing. Through the McKinney-Vento program, Lauderbaugh helps families and youth with school enrollment, transportation, obtaining school supplies and informs families of resources in the community and at the school. Lauderbaugh said the state-funded program awarded Bemidji $40,000 out of a $500,000 statewide distribution
"We try to focus on the assets of family members as we work to remove barriers and set goals together from there," Lauderbaugh said.
Lauderbaugh said she has seen a lot of success stories. Some of the families she has worked with reconnect with her to offer donations and volunteer after they have secured permanent housing. Lauderbaugh has been building inventory at her new "consignment shop" in the Bemidji bus garage on Fifteenth Street Northwest.
Last year Lauderbaugh was storing donations for her students in a small office. This year, she has expanded thanks to Bemidji Schools Transportation Coordinator Greg Liedl and Paul Rafferty in the school's facilities maintenance department.
Leidl and Rafferty procured shelving and racks for the shop from schools that were not using the materials. Lauderbaugh said the transportation department is one way students in transition are identified as needing assistance.
"I came in one day and it was just set up," Lauderbaugh said. "It makes my job easier and makes it easier for families."
Students and parents are able to make appointments to browse Lauderbaugh's shop for clothing and other donations sorted by type and size. Lauderbaugh said she has a lot of sweatshirts but is in need of winter wear, snow pants, gently used youth pants and winter boots.
"Think, 'Would my child wear this?' when selecting clothes to donate," Lauderbaugh said.
Items that are always in need for students in transition include air mattresses, sleeping bags, backpacks and new socks and underwear. Donations can be brought to the transportation department office at the bus garage.
Having essential supplies goes a long way toward making a child successful in school as does keeping a student in their school of origin when possible, Lauderbaugh said .
"Each move puts a kid back four to six months academically," Lauderbaugh said. "It is exciting to watch kids succeed in school. Being able to be part of their self-discovery is so rewarding."
Lauderbaugh was named Bemidji Education Association's Teacher of the Year in September.
Going home to Evergreen
When some students get home from school there's a good chance the door they close behind them is at one of a few Evergreen Youth and Family Services properties in the Bemidji area.
"It's pretty similar to last year. We get a good number of kids coming through every year," said Becky Schueller, executive director at Evergreen.
Evergreen's youth shelter can take in up to 10 youth between the ages of 9 and 17. Schueller said there are generally at least seven staying at the Mississippi Avenue site and a typical stay is three to four days. When circumstances require a youth to be housed longer, the shelter can provide housing for up to 90 days.
The youth shelter can see up to 350 individual stays each year, Schueller said. Young people find their way to the Evergreen youth shelter or drop-in center through a variety of channels including school, social workers and family referrals.
"Some kids come literally with the clothes on their backs," Schueller said. "Those kids we give school supplies, backpacks and clothing. We do everything."
Youth visiting the drop-in center are able to shower, do laundry, use computers for job and housing applications and connect with staff for essential services. The Evergreen Youth Drop-In Center is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Schueller said the center has a partnership with the Bemidji Soup Kitchen which provides a hot meal in the evenings and the center also operates as a youth food shelf.
The youth shelter was built in the 1990s, Evergreen recently completed approximately $50,000 in improvements to the building. Structural work including repairs to bathrooms and flooring and installation of new windows and doors was funded through multiple funding sources.
"We did some major renovations at the shelter," Schueller said.
Evergreen will be hosting open houses from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Nov. 9 at the drop-in center at 610 Patriot Avenue Northwest and from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Nov. 19 at the shelter located at 622 Mississippi Avenue.
"Evergreen has really expanded its continuum of housing services in recent years," Schueller said.
Evergreen promotes family reunificaiton as a first resort but also works with foster placement and has apartments for young adults, Schueller said. There are six units at the Patriot Drive location including one four-bedroom unit that can house 12 to 15 youth and their babies and toddlers. There are also four one-bedroom apartments and a two-bedroom unit for young individuals or families.
Evergreen provides rental assistance and case management for youth in what Schueller calls "scattered site housing" rentals from private landlords and homeless youth and young adults with disabilities are able to rent one of 11 Housing and Urban Development funded units.
Almost half of the homeless people counted in a recent Amherst H. Wilder Foundation survey conducted throughout Minnesota were youth and young adults, Schueller said .
"Increasingly homeless children are becoming homeless adults," Schueller said.
According to the Wilder Statewide and Region Counts of Homeless People conducted on Oct. 25, 2012, there were 666 homeless people in Minnesota's Northwest region which includes Beltrami, Hubbard and Clearwater Counties. Wilder recorded 195 homeless children with parents and 18 unaccompanied youth.
Based on Wilder Research counts, statewide there were 10,214 homeless people counted in 2012 including 3,546 children with parents and 146 unaccompanied youth. Amherst H. Wilder Foundation conducts homeless count surveys every three years. Results for the Oct. 22, 2015 count will be released in the spring.
Donate To Homeless Youth
Students in Transition at Bemidji Schools
Bus Garage on 15th Street Northwest - (218) 333-3225
• peanut butter
• air mattresses
• sleeping bags
• new socks and underwear
• winter wear
• snow pants (sizes 6-14 boys and girls)
• gently used pants (yoga and sweatpants)
• boots (size 1 child to adult size 7)
Evergreen Youth & Family Services
610 Patriot Drive Northwest, Bemidji - (218) 444-5736
• peanut butter
• tuna fish
• art supplies
• winter coats
• books for babies and toddlers
• mittens, hats, scarves, gloves
• hygiene items (unopened)
People interested in volunteering with Evergreen can inquire at www.VolunteerBemidji.org .