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Bold Approaches for Addressing Youth Homelessness

A group of Arise Project members hugging

John Wilgers


A safe, stable place to call home is essential for our well-being. It’s where we eat our meals, prepare for work or school and recharge. Yet, amidst record employment, homelessness in our state has increased 10 percent since 2015, and on any given night, nearly 7,000 people experience homelessness – half of which are children and youth. Further, people of color and American Indians disproportionately face homelessness because of inequitable access to housing, and these challenges often are magnified for older adults, people with criminal histories and LGBTQ youth.

Our vision is one where episodes of homelessness are rare, brief and nonrecurring. Through our donors’ generosity, we focus on helping our community obtain safe, stable and affordable housing through outreach, shelter, long-term case management and mental health resources.

Welcoming Home LGBTQ Youth via United Way’s Arise Project

An estimated 2,500 youth in Minnesota are without shelter on any given night, and 40 percent of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ. To address this need, United Way created the Arise Project, a group of donors and volunteers that envisions a Minnesota where all youth – regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity – have the support and resources they need to reach their full potential. The Arise Project is an innovator in identifying and addressing needs of LGBTQ homeless youth, as it’s the only organization creating one-of-a-kind grants that empower nonprofits to expand programming and services for this community.

Since its founding in 2011, Arise Project has raised over $1 million for local programs and is the largest funder of LGBTQ issues in Minnesota. Arise partners with local nonprofits to provide grants to support LGBTQ homeless youth and raise awareness around the issues faced by LGBTQ communities in our area.

Last year, Arise Project funded Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota (LSS) to support its StreetWorks program (an outreach collaborative serving youth who are experiencing homelessness) by ensuring the curriculum included best practices for working with LGBTQ youth. StreetWorks staff provide youth resources related to housing, food, counseling and other necessities. Thanks to Arise Project, the new LGBTQ-supportive curriculum is being used throughout Minnesota and is slated to be used across the country as a best practice for engaging with LGBTQ homeless youth.

Arise Project funding also enabled StreetWorks to hire its new Queer Peer Outreach Worker (QPOW) position, which provided employment for someone who also previously experienced homelessness as well as increased StreetWorks’ capacity to serve LGBTQ youth. In 2019, Arise Project funding helped StreetWorks employ their QPOW for another year as well as hire a second QPOW. Last year, the QPOW made over 400 contacts with LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness.

Bold, National Challenge to End Youth Homelessness with United Way’s Sam Blackwell

In September 2019, A Way Home America launched the Grand Challenge to support 10 communities working to achieve a shared, bold goal: End homelessness for LGBTQ youth and youth of color within two years.

Hennepin County is one of the participating communities, and because of United Way’s focus on housing stability and supporting homeless LGBTQ youth, Sam Blackwell, United Way’s household stability program officer, was selected to serve on the Grand Challenge’s advisory committee. In this role, Sam will help actualize the recommendations from young people with lived experience to ensure government, philanthropy and service providers are putting the realities of LGBTQ youth and people of color at the center of our solutions to homelessness.

Share Your Ideas

Together – with you – we can disrupt inequities and end homelessness, building a community where all thrive, regardless of income, race or place.

Do you have an idea for how we can end youth homelessness and provide more young adults with the resources to secure safe, stable housing? If so, please share in the comments.

John Wilgers is president and CEO of Greater Twin Cities United Way. A passionate community advocate for more than 10 years, he has served in several United Way roles, including board chair, member of the executive committee of the board, volunteer, fundraiser and donor.

About the Author

John Wilgers is the President and CEO of Greater Twin Cities United Way. A passionate community advocate for more than 10 years, John has served in several United Way roles, including board chair, member of the executive committee of the board, volunteer, fundraiser and donor. He has a bachelor’s degree in business administration and accounting from the University of Kansas.

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