Creating New Opportunities With Intention

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After more than 40 years of serving young people experiencing homelessness in Minneapolis, the staff and leadership at YouthLink saw an opportunity to make some changes—changes that would help us do more for youth.

Our Supervisor of Integrated Services, Shannon, explains: “Our numbers continue to grow every year. Both in terms of youth and partners. As we began to redesign our space, it was time to step back and reflect on how we were delivering our services.”

Lorraine, the YouthLink Drop-In Supervisor, agreed. She admits that she was seeing first-hand gaps in the way YouthLink was serving young people. “We found there wasn’t enough time for staff to connect with the youth they were working with. The young people who visit YouthLink are in shelters and sleeping on the street. Those who are in shelters have to be back by a certain time. They have a very small window to get things done. What we were hearing from young people was that this window wasn’t enough.”

To achieve this goal, we have restructured our hours and redesigned the way we deliver our services. YouthLink’s morning Drop-In, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., is now open to youth, ages 16 to 24 years to have their basic needs met. The afternoon session from 2 to 6pm, has been restructured to ensure everyone is getting their larger needs—like financing or education and employment—met.

The time constraints disproportionately impacted young people who often weren’t comfortable voicing their needs. “We wanted to ensure that everyone has equal access. That all youth have equitable resources. And that they are all aware of the huge amount of resources available to them,” says Shannon.

“We wanted to be intentional about what we’re doing with young people during that time,” Lorraine says. “We’re more focused on the young people as individuals and their goals. They have the ability to meet one-on-one with Transition Coaches during this time.”

As our team worked to restructure the afternoon sessions, our holistic approach was a big driver, according to Lorraine. “We wanted to engage youth in all the different types of services available to them. To do this, we’ve invited partners to our team meetings where they can ask questions and get to know each other. It’s a way to connect the different opportunities.”

Within this process, our language shifted as well. Staff formerly known as Case Managers became “Transition Coaches,” and Drop-In staff have become “Opportunity Navigators.” “This new language helps young people identify who can help them—and with what. Transition Coaches work one-on-one with young people, while Opportunity Navigators direct them to the resources in the Opportunity Center and the community,” Shannon says.The new language is already helping to foster a better relationship between the staff and young people, as well. Lorraine explains, “The young people are not ‘cases.’ We’re not managing them. They get a say in how they want to navigate through their journey. The new titles let them know they get to shape how they want to go about fulfilling their goals and dreams.”

Another way we’re able to deepen this community is through our Wednesday night dinners, which have also undergone some changes as part of the overall YouthLink redesign and refresh.

“We focus on family reunification. Young people get to bring their family—whoever that may be to them: aunt, social worker, friend. They get the opportunity to share the space and show them what they’re working on and where they’re going,” Lorraine says.

Among all these efforts and changes, relationship building remains at the center of it all. Shannon sums that up: “Our ultimate goal is to help youth be more successful through intentional, one-on-one time. When they walk through the doors it should be easy for them to access the services they need as individuals. It’s all about doing our work better, so youth are better impacted.”

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