Three grants support new drop-in center for Saint Paul's homeless young people
On any given day in Saint Paul, there are at least 200 homeless youth on the street, which puts them at risk of sex-trafficking and other victimization. Of those, 70-80 stop by the SafeZone Drop-In Center downtown for a hot meal, a change of clothes, help finding a job or a place to live.
Since 2007, visits to Ramsey County’s only drop-in center for homeless youth have increased 75 percent, to more than 20,000 visits a year. The center has outgrown its 5,800-square-foot space at 308 Prince St., near the Farmers Market. To better meet that growing need, the nonprofit that runs SafeZone has leased and is renovating an 8,200-square-foot space in Metro Square, at 7th and Robert Streets.
In their November grant rounds, The Saint Paul Foundation, F. R. Bigelow Foundation and Mardag Foundation made grants totaling $60,000 to support moving costs, furnishings and equipment for the new space. The SafeZone funding was among 135 grants totaling nearly $3.5 million the three Foundations made in November.
Established in 1994, by Face to Face Health and Counseling Service, SafeZone offers a range of free services to homeless and at-risk youth ― and not just those under 18. “Youth” is now defined in many federal and state regulations as people up until they turn 25.
“There is myth in our culture that when a person turns 18 that they should be able to support themselves and be independent,” said Lynda Bennett, Face to Face executive director. “The barriers that our young people face these days are just staggering.”
Bennett points to a recent Pew Research study that found a record 36.4 percent of young women ages 18-34 live with at least one parent, as do 42.8 percent of young men. Due to later marriage and stagnant earning power, it is common for young adults to bounce back and live with their parents at least once after college, Bennett said.
“The population we serve doesn’t have that family to go back to,” she said. “Youth are homeless for a variety of reasons; many have experienced physical abuse, sexual abuse or neglect as children, many have come out of the child welfare system and have families with mental illness, chemical dependency or incarceration histories.”
The cost of renovating SafeZone’s larger space is estimated at $500,000. Bennett said work could begin this month, and the plan is to open the new drop-in center in March 2016.
“The grants are a lifeline,” she said. “The Foundations have been funders in every one of our capital projects over the past 23 years.”
She said one donor made a $40,000 gift that allowed the nonprofit to get the project underway, and Face to Face raised more than $10,000 on Give to the Max Day, allowing it to claim a $10,000 matching give from another donor. The nonprofit’s GiveMN page is active year-round for individual donors to offer support.
Bennett said that the new location is a better fit for SafeZone than its Lowertown space, which now sits in a quickly gentrifying neighborhood. “Young people under stress who are in survival mode do what they need to in order to look tough enough to live on the street, and that scares some people,” she said.
“It is really essential to have the Drop-In Center be centrally located and accessible from all parts of the metro by public transportation, not to be in any particular residential neighborhood,” she said.
SafeZone is a program of Face to Face, a Saint Paul nonprofit. “Since it was established in 1972, Face to Face has been awarded a combined $588,000 in grants for various projects, including SafeZone,” said Ann Mulholland, Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundation's Executive Vice President. “Our Foundations are proud to make these grants, because SafeZone is a vital part of the safety net that gives young people opportunities to succeed in Saint Paul.”
In the recent grant round, the three Foundations ― all of which have long supported a wide variety of youth and education issues ― made other grants to support youth, including:
A $15,000 grant from The Saint Paul Foundation to Saint Paul City School for Girls in STEM, supporting science programming for 200 girls in grades 4 through 8, four days a week during the school year and two weeks of all-day programming during the summer.
A $15,000 grant from F. R. Bigelow Foundation to Urban Roots MN, supporting its Youth Conservation Program to engage low-income youth in the civic life of their community with programming and paid internships that develop science, math and engineering skills and create interest in wider career opportunities.
A $10,000 grant from Mardag Foundation to Ka Joog, supporting its Invisible Art Fanka Program to preserve, create and inspire appreciation of the artistic heritage of the Somali people and encourage youth to extend Somali traditions through their own artistic practices.
See the full grants list