A new community resource will soon be opening in Elk River, thanks to the initial efforts of Union Congregational Church, UCC of Elk River. Open Doors for Youth will be a resource center where homeless youth, ages 16-21, can acquire both basic needs and access to essential community services. The center will be open Mon-Fri 2-6pm and will be staffed by trained volunteers. A site has been leased and the goal is to be operational this coming February. Our new website will be up by Nov 29th – check us out! www.opendoorsforyouth.org.
This project has a strong link to our being an affirming congregation. In April of 2012 Union Congregational voted to become an Open and Affirming (ONA) church. Like other ONA churches, we began to discern what it meant to live into this covenant. Youth homelessness was already a focus our church was active in. For years our young people had been participating in Night on the Street. We had also been doing charity drives with Avenues for Homeless Youth in Minneapolis. As we looked more deeply into this topic, we discovered the disproportionate numbers of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender young people among the homeless youth population. National estimates are 30-40% of homeless youth identify as LGBT. We also learned LGBT individuals experiencing homelessness are often at a heightened risk of violence, abuse, and exploitation compared with their heterosexual peers. Transgender people are particularly at physical risk due to a lack of acceptance.
As an affirming and welcoming church, we decided to think big and find a way to meet the needs of ALL the homeless youth in our communities. After much research, we decided the best approach would be to open a drop-in resource center. Realizing that this would be a huge undertaking and one that required participation from the entire community, we decided to restructure Open Doors for Youth as a nonprofit community organization. We are partnering with Sherburne County Area United Way, our local school district, county human services, local businesses, service organizations, and individuals who share our vision of empowering all youth experiencing homelessness to shape their futures as self-sufficient and thriving adults.
If you would like further information, please contact Cheryl Wold, firstname.lastname@example.org or 763-241-0199.