Kofi just turned 23. Until recently, he was homeless.
Kofi isn’t his real name, but it’s the name he asked to use for this story for both safety and privacy. He’s been through enough already.
Before things took a turn in Kofi’s life, he’d been studying at Minneapolis Community and Technical College, with a 15-credit workload. He also had a job at Walmart. He was trying to balance his time and his money among school, work, and rent. Then he found himself in "a really tough spot" and ended up on the street.
He bounced from house to house, couch-surfing with friends and sometimes sleeping on the train. He occasionally spent nights in a homeless shelter.
He remembers when his supervisor at work had told him about YouthLink, a nonprofit that serves homeless youth. He hadn’t needed it then. He needed it now. The agency quallified him for a new place in a 46-unit complex designed for people age 18 to 24.
Downtown View, located on 12th Street in downtown Minneapolis, was the product of $12 million in public financing through tax credits, the county, and the city. You have to be long-term homeless and living in poverty to qualify. Renters are expected to have some kind of income -- which Downtown View will help them find -- and pay 30 percent of it for rent. Meanwhile, they can work toward their GED and get mental health services.
When Kofi was approved, Downtown View hadn’t been built yet. For months, Kofi watched it rise brick by brick. For the first time since last summer, he now has a safe place to sleep. He’d never had a room to himself before.
“It’s not hard to find them,” says Heather Huseby, the executive director of YouthLink. Homeless youth are everywhere in the Twin Cities. Her agency serves 2,000 a year.
Until now, those 2,000 haven’t had many options. Downtown View happens to be the first affordable youth housing in the downtown core. It’s still technically not finished. They need to raise another million and a half to finish renovating the adjacent YouthLink site and connect it to the complex. The goal is to create what is essentially a campus. In a single day, you could work on your GED, visit the Career Pathways Center to talk about your future, consult a counselor, get a checkup, and even work out in the fitness area.
Most of Downtown View’s tenants, Huseby says, are out on their own because they’ve been the victims of abuse, neglect, or sexual exploitation.
“They don’t have the backbone of a family,” she says. Usually that leads to run-ins with the legal system, which leads to difficulty finding work, which leads to more poverty and time on the streets. Some have undiagnosed mental health issues. Some are self-medicating. None of this helps their chances of finding a stable living situation.
The complex is designed in a quad format to encourage friendships and community-building. Then, when they leave to get a place of their own, they have the thing most likely to help them afford that: a roommate.
It’s a temporary solution, Huseby says. It used to be that youths would stay in affordable housing for about a year, she says. That’s about as long as they want someone looking over their shoulder, telling them what to do, making sure they’re following a career plan and doing their coursework. These days, rents elsewhere are so high that they usually end up staying twice that long.
Kofi has a rough plan for how he wants the next few years to go. He already has a year under his belt at MCTC -- he doesn’t think it’s too far-fetched to finish another. Then he can transfer to a four-year program and start on an aviation degree. He wants to be a pilot.
In the meantime, he can enjoy the scene outside his bedroom window, where he can see Target Field and the Salvation Army. It’s a reminder, he says, of everything he went through.
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