Once homeless, youths find their way

By Jeff Hansel

The Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN

Rock 4 LINK fundraiser

When: April 25. 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. Music starts at 3:30 p.m.

Where: Northstar Bar, 503 N. Broadway, Rochester.

Includes: Food from Roscoe's, silent auction, five bands and a raffle.

Suggested donation: $5.

Do you think of a young student with high grades, a skilled videographer or a budding professional musician when you think of a homeless person?

If you do, you will be thinking of people like Sam Van Vo, 21, a self-taught videographer and graphic artist; Theresa Lyons, 19, who has immersed herself in education; and musician Damien Newman, 19.

Newman has recorded a song dedicated to the Rochester Area Family Y LINK Transitional Housing Program, which serves homeless and at-risk youths ages 16 to 21. The program offers life-skills classes to help youth learn how to balance a checkbook, make a monthly budget and interact in the work environment.


All three of the young adults live in Rochester. All three have lived on the streets or in the woods. And all three have found a safe haven at LINK.

• Tussles at home first got Vo in legal trouble at about age 11, he says. Similar events led him to the streets.

Most of his record "is domestic assault against my family when I was like 11, 12, 13. ... I've been on probation since I was like 11," Vo said. "It took them that long to realize that I wasn't some sort of criminal."

He learned graphic arts skills while figuring out how to use the Web to draw attention to his music.

He wants a job in the design field and likes to see perfection before he considers any project finished.

"I try to do everything as professionally as possible," he says. "I want people to think, whoa, that guy's really good. That's really professional."

He's a freshman at Rochester Community and Technical College studying media arts and Web design and lives in an apartment now, much different from the year he spent sleeping in his car in a parking lot, including nights that were uncomfortably hot during the summer.

During subzero winter, he would "sometimes stay awake all night, wait for the sun to come up, (making it) a little bit warmer." After that, he could sleep.


•Theresa Lyons, 19, has a dorm room at Crossroads College. But she's apprehensive about summer break, when she'll have no home to return to. She moved directly from foster care to college, in large part so she would have a place to live. She does well in school, she says, because it's an escape for her. She considers the LINK Program a safe haven.

"I have, actually, a stable place to go. It's kind of like a home away from school," she said. Lyons had been in foster care since age 10, living in many places.

"Before that, at age 6, I lived in the woods just to avoid the abuse," Lyons said. She said her parents lost parental rights when she was 10 and she entered the foster care system.

• Damien Newman, 19, slept in his car for about a year. He also "couch-hopped" among friends' houses, a common practice for teens who have no permanent place to live.

Parents of his friends, who sometimes struggled financially themselves, gave him bags of breakfast cereal, and for a long time, that's what he lived on. Newman said that as a teenager, he was told to either stop seeing his girlfriend or move out on his own. He moved out.

At first he liked the freedom, but life on the street became tough.

Now, Newman is a well-versed musician and has made recordings as "Young O.D."

Jessica Geary, LINK case manager, said "we have some kids who've been in foster care much of their childhood and don't have anywhere to go. We've seen many cases where they turn 18 and they're like, 'OK, you're 18, you're good to go' and they end up on the street."


Many young people can turn to their parents or other family members when they "hit a bump in the road." But kids in foster care and those on the street don't have a support network, Geary said. That's why LINK wants to open a transitional shelter for homeless and at-risk teens and young adults.

Newman said such a shelter would have helped him, but he's thankful for the time spent with the LINK case managers.

"For everyone there's choices. You guys help us with the choices," he told Geary.

Health reporter Jeff Hansel (285-7615) writes a blog Pulse on Health at Follow him on Twitter @JeffHansel

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