The Shelter Gap

South-West-Metro numbers a
For many students facing the temporary or permanent loss of home, maintaining school and other local activities are vital sources of stability, relationships, and hope during times of crisis. 
Too often, they initially find no places to stay that are safe and within a commutable distance of their schools, activities, and networks of support.

By the time teachers or school social workers become engaged in helping students find safe places to stay at night, they often find that shelters licensed to accommodate minors are already full.

And when shelter beds are indeed available at the time of a student’s crisis, those beds are often inaccessibly far from their schools, jobs, and networks of friends and support; generally upward of 90 minutes by public transit.  The red numbers in this map represent the approximate numbers of home loss incidents that occur in the vicinity of the area’s high schools and middle schools during any school year; the green numbers represent the number of shelter beds licensed to accommodate unaccompanied minors.

Either way, too many students in home loss situations face an unfortunate dilemma:

  • staying in unsafe or compromising places inside their local community, or
  • making their way to shelters where they’re likely to miss school, jobs, and other activities until special transportation can be arranged by their school districts.

Why the gaps exist (and why they will likely persist):  Although incidents of teens being abandoned, pushed out of their homes, or fleeing unsafe homes happen steadily across metropolitan areas like the Twin Cities, within any individual local community, these incidents occur only sporadically and in single or small numbers at any single point in time. For this reason, it has been and will likely always be difficult for permanently operating emergency shelters to maintain a cost-effective scale of utilization, particularly in the suburbs.  As a result, nearly all shelter beds dedicated to unaccompanied minors tend to be located in downtown areas, typically with only limited accessibility to students’ local communities and schools.

Illustration: A student attending Jefferson High School in Bloomington (the southernmost 2 on the map) would need to take three or four busses and travel between an hour and an hour and a half each morning to get to school from either of the two shelters available within the geographic quadrant.  Conversely, the Jefferson student (or students attending any of the five schools south of I-494) could get to school from Oak Grove Presbyterian Church (a proposed SafeNights shelter site) taking one bus and travelling less than 10 minutes.



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