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Jon Evert, Published May 09 2013

Letter: Encourage legislators to support funding for Homeless Youth Act

As a Clay County commissioner and as a board member of Lutheran Social Services of Minnesota and the Lutheran Coalition for Public Policy, I have become aware of Minnesota’s deep, dark secret. It is a secret that exists in communities throughout the state, including our Moorhead-Fargo community.

That secret is that there are more than 2,500 youth in Minnesota who are without a safe and secure place to call home. Nearly 100 of them are right here in our community. They must each night find shelter in places like apartment building stairwells, their cars, other people’s cars, garages and empty houses, under school bleachers and in tents and campgrounds – all of which are unsuitable places for kids on their own to sleep with safety. Forty percent of these homeless youth live in Greater Minnesota, 45 percent have been physically or sexually abused, and 56 percent were told to leave or were locked out of their home.

Having a safe place with the support of caring adults is just plain fundamental. How can we expect youth to participate in school, hold down a job or have any hope of succeeding when they are staying in a parking ramp or worse? We can and must help these youth find a way to gain a steady foothold in our communities.

Many will say we can’t afford to help that many youth. The truth is, we cannot afford to not make this investment. What we do or don’t do right now will have lifelong implications, not only for the youth but for our community as well.

It is estimated that youth who fail to graduate from high school, for example, could cost the community $750,000 over a lifetime in lost tax revenues, health care costs, incarceration and social services. In addition, think of the lost potential and what these people could add in our community in creativity, hard work and brain power.

Encourage your legislators to support the Homeless Youth Act, which will bring the needed funding for early intervention, safe housing and connections to caring adults – all key elements to helping youth move off the streets and toward a healthy, productive future.

The $8 million investment requested for the Homeless Youth Act would be an important step forward for these young people. Indeed, this investment may be the highest-returning investment Minnesota could make during this legislative session.

Evert, Moorhead, is a Clay County commissioner.