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Youth homelessness center opens in Duluth

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The Center for Changing Lives
The Center for Changing Lives is a project of Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota.
Dan Kraker | MPR News

A $9.1 million dollar center with the ambitious goal of helping to end homelessness for young people in Duluth celebrated its grand opening this week.  

The Center for Changing Lives is a project of Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota. It provides 10 apartments and 10 transitional housing units for young people who otherwise might not have a place to sleep, and offers services like life skills training to hundreds of other young people to try to prevent them from becoming homeless in the first place. 

On any given night, 120 young people in Duluth are homeless, according to a 2012 report from St. Paul-based Wilder Research. 

Lutheran Social Service CEO Jodi Harpstead said the new facility, in addition to other housing and services in Duluth provided by organizations like Life House, means the city has a realistic chance of ending youth homelessness. 

"Because Duluth is a close enough community to recognize and see its homeless and at risk youth, who get lost in the Twin Cities for example," she said. "And big enough to have a dream like this." She admitted that 20 new housing units are not enough for the current homeless population. 

"No, there's not enough housing now, we know that. But rather than building lots and lots of housing, we'd rather work to end the problem."

Most of the services the new center offers are intended to prevent young people from becoming homeless in the first place. Most importantly, she said, they work with about 500 young people in truancy programs. 

Skipping class is usually a sign of larger problems, she said. So if they can keep kids attending school, they may be able to prevent homelessness. 

Another program focuses on kids who age out of the state foster care system at 18. She said that's the main reason why young people become homeless. 

"It's been in our laws for years that you're an adult at 18," she said. "But the world has changed, and a young person at 18, to be able to get a job that pays rent and take care of themselves, is very difficult."

The state contributed $4.2 million of new center's total cost. Federal grants covered another portion. About half the project was funded by private donations.