Supporting youth experiencing homeless during COVID-19 pandemic

The Legislature passed more than $32 million in funding to support housing and shelter options for low-income Minnesotans and Minnesotans experiencing homelessness in response to COVID-19 last week. Agencies serving young people experiencing homelessness raised concerns about this funding, as it has been their experience that when youth services are not specified as eligible recipients, they are often overlooked when funding is dispersed.

Senate DFLers raised these concerns during last week’s the floor session and initiated a letter with bipartisan support to health and human services agency commissioners clarifying that these funds are available to support homeless youth. The letter also suggested that the state-wide homeless youth coalition Youth Services Network (YSN) be asked to help establish criteria and/or advise on where grants for this community are best made. Senate DFLers were pleased to receive confirmation from the governor’s office and relevant agencies that organizations serving youth will be eligible for these funds.

Studies have shown more than 6,000 Minnesota youth experience homelessness on any given night. Over half of these young people have experienced violence or exploitation. This population is extremely vulnerable to COVID-19 with fewer options for safe shelter and additional barriers in obtaining stable housing. Even before the pandemic, programs and agencies serving these youth were seriously underfunded. The increased funding for emergency services grants will be critical for organizations who provide youth homeless services to add shelter or isolation space, purchase cleaning and sanitary equipment, and add extra staff to accommodate health and safety guidelines.