BY LEE EGERSTROM
St Paul’s Ain Dah Yung Center has been helping Native children and families since 1983 but is now preparing to provide affordable, transitional housing for young people who normally “fall through the cracks” of social services and foster care programs.
The Minnesota Housing Finance Agency recently announced it is providing $9.4 million in housing tax credits to support a joint Ain Dah Yung and Project for Pride in Living project to build 42 small, apartment-style housing units on University Avenue at Victoria Street, less than a mile west of the Minnesota State Capitol complex.
The total $11.3 million project will provide housing, cultural and healing services, various health and living services for homeless young people ages 18-24 who have moved beyond foster care eligibility, said Deb Foster (St. Croix Ojibwe), the ADY Center executive director.
While these young people fall through the cracks of other social services, she said, they must have safe, culturally sensitive training and counseling services to adjust to life as successful working adults.
Half of the planned development’s units will serve long-term homeless people although they must be in the 18-24 age group for admittance. Seven other units are designated for use by people with disabilities.
Gov. Mark Dayton, state housing officials and U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum made the Oct. 19 announcement at ADY Center’s headquarters at 1089 Portland Ave. in St. Paul, which is also the site of Ain Dah Yung’s emergency center.
Minnesota Housing is providing housing infrastructure bonds and state appropriations totaling $126 million in the coming year. This state involvement with federal programs will leverage a projected $346 million in private and local investments on affordable housing.
Some of the projects statewide are for building and rehabbing single family homes. Other projects are for low income apartments or special housing units such as Ain Dah Yung’s. Combined, state officials said the grants, tax credits and private investments will generate 1,823 “affordable housing opportunities” for individuals and families.
For Ain Dah Yung (“Our Home” in Ojibwe), the targeted group that will be served by the new project represents a disproportionate slice of the homeless population in the Twin Cities, Foster said.
“In the state of Minnesota, approximately 2 percent of the population is American Indian. At the same time, an estimated 22 percent of the homeless youth are American Indians. Once you ‘graduate’ from foster care programs, you find yourself put out on the streets,” she said.
Foster spoke about Ain Dah Yung’s plans during an interview at the emergency shelter the day after staff decorated the main floor of the building for a Halloween party.
“The kids get excited seeing this decorated, and yes, it does make them feel at home,” said Angela Gauthier, a licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT) who is the residential and clinical director for ADY Center and the shelter.
Currently, as is usually the case year around, there are 10 children from ages 5 to 17 at the shelter, Gauthier said. Being able to care for children as young as 5 gives the shelter the opportunity to keep siblings together even though they may be homeless, in a family crisis or involved with juvenile corrections.
Nearby, the Center also operates the Beverly A. Benjamin Youth Lodge as transitional housing for young people between the ages of 16 and 21. Its goal is to create community and cultural sup-port to help the young people to prepare for independent or inter-dependent living and break away from homelessness and “couch cruising” from one location to another.
Foster said the University Avenue development is for the next step up age group. Young people were key participants in the planning, she said. “They wanted a safe place, they wanted to be on the light rail system so they have access to education and jobs, they wanted access to food and entertainment, and they wanted access to medical and counseling services.”
Mike Laverdure (Turtle Mountain Ojibwe), architect and owner of the First American Design Study in Lake Elmo, has developed plans that will have a “healing circle” gathering area on all four floors of the building. Cultural training and supportive gatherings can occur there for residents and their ADY counselors and staff.
There will also be dental services, a clothing store, food store and other amenities on site for both convenient living and for workplace training opportunities.
This won’t solve American Indian urban problems with homelessness and family crisis, but it is another step toward filling a void. The majority of Native Americans from Minnesota’s 11 tribes now live in urban areas and especially in the Twin Cities metro area.
As a result, major foundations, corporations and religious groups have joined with the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, and an ADY Center’s neighbor, House of Hope Presbyterian Church, in helping fund construction of units in the new housing complex.
Foster said Mille Lacs officials were “shocked” when ADY pointed out that Mille Lacs represented the second and third largest tribal identity for youth needing housing and other family and related services.
Sometimes a safe haven means getting away from abusive situations. In many cases, she added, a safe environment is needed to get away from drug dealers and pimps. Too often with homeless youth, Foster said, undesirable street elements “become substitute families.”
Gauthier said the ADY Center currently has 35 various residential staff, counselors, therapists, legal advocates and others working on programs.
The 2017 ADY Center’s annual reports shows the magnitude of their work which is not exclusive for Native American youth but accounts for more than 90 percent of their residents and clients.
The emergency center provided short-term shelter, crisis intervention, access to medical and dental care and other advocacy and counseling services to 75 youth last year. The Ninijanisag (“Our Children”) program helped 220 young people in prevention and cultural activities that included monthly family nights.
Counselors with the Street Outreach Program helped 2,212 homeless and runaway youths who didn’t want to enter a shelter, including 1,547 new contacts and 665 young people previously known to ADY.
Mental health case managers worked with Ramsey County colleagues to help 57 youth and their families with mental health needs, and ADY’s Family Advocacy Program with family preservation and reunification efforts. There were 41 families with 90 children reached through that program.
ADY legal monitors also worked in collaboration with Southern Minnesota Legal Services in 2016 to monitor 167 court hearings affecting 240 children to enforce local compliance with the federal Indian Child Welfare Act.
Put all together, Foster said Ain Dah Yung seeks to bolster children and young people’s self-identity and cultural pride. Often, she said, “you need to know who you are to get an idea of what you may become.”