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LINK wants to open teen homeless shelter

The Rochester Area Family Y LINK Transitional Housing Program hopes to open a shelter for teenagers and young adults who are homeless and at risk of homelessness.

But the program's social workers and clients want your help to fund the first year.

During the month of April, you can cast an online vote for the Rochester LINK Program to receive a grant from the Pepsi Refresh project at www.refresheverything.com/linkrochfamy , where a video featuring the program by Rochester's Sam Van Vo is posted. Currently, LINK is 109th out of 1,140; the top 10 vote-getting projects will receive $50,000.

LINK case managers believe the $50,000 will support the purchase of beds and dressers, along with housing costs for the first year. They plan to apply for a federal grant to provide continuing coverage.

LINK serves about 300 southeastern Minnesota youth each year.


Vo, 21, was born in Rochester and has participated in life skills classes at LINK after social workers there discovered he was living in his car in a parking lot — for about a year.

Damien Newman, 19, also lived in his car for most of a year. Had there been a transitional shelter available to help him find stable housing, he said, "I would have been able to eat right, shower daily, keep good hygiene."

But LINK case manager Jessica Geary said there are only seven such shelters "in the entire state of Minnesota. None of those are in southern Minnesota. So there's nothing for the kids in our area."

Geary said teens become homeless for a variety of reasons, but are able to succeed and develop their talents if given a boost in the form of a stable place to stay, support from those around them and the skills to succeed independently.

LINK, funded by state and federal grants, serves youth ages 16 to 21.

Geary said teens can end up on the streets because of family violence, arguments with parents, release from jail, parents who are drug addicts and the abrupt end of foster care at age 18.

"So where are those kids going to go? They're going to stay on the street; if they're lucky, they're going to stay with a friend; they're going to stay in a laundromat," Geary said.

She said LINK is negotiating agreements to be able to rent a large house for "significantly less" than market value.


She, colleagues, clients and program alumni hope to turn it into a shelter for homeless teens, and those at risk of homelessness. If they're successful, those who graduate from life-skills classes will always have a place to visit if they experience a rough patch in the future. And the shelter will become a place for youth to thrive.

"This could also be a place where we could hold Christmas and Thanksgiving," Geary said. "It would become also kind of a community for the youth that we work with."

CUT HERE IF NEEDED: That would mean a lot to someone like Theresa Lyons, 19, who left foster care at age 18 with no place to live. She has lived in a college dorm room since then, but worries about what she will do during summer break. The holidays were especially lonely.

"It was very difficult to have a Christmas, because there was no family to spend it with," she said.

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