Anoka nonprofit raises $1M in 45 days to combat youth homelessness

Dubbed the "Snow Angel Challenge," an Anoka nonprofit raised $1 million to help tackle youth homelessness in just 45 days by challenging the community to create a bare-backed snow angel.

"Today we had a young person that did not have shelter when he left. So the doors closed and we provided him kind of a safety plan here's bus tokens in case you need to ride the bus, here's the shelters that might have an emergency bed tonight," Karrie Schaaf, district homeless liaison for Anoka-Hennepin Schools, said.

An average of 30 young people come through Hope 4 Youth's doors every day.

"Some youth might have a place to stay but they aren't able to provide rent or any kind of subsidy to stay there so if they can contribute, sometimes they'll bring toiletries or food and it will allow them to stay another night," Schaaf said.

In 2014, more than 450 young people have visited Hope 4 Youth -- many of those visits were recurring. Take a tour of the Drop In Center and you'll find a safe place for them to enjoy a hot meal, find warm clothes, do laundry, search for jobs, commune, and store their belongings, but they have to leave by 7 p.m., or 4 p.m. on weekends.

That's why John Sitarz started the Snow Angel Challenge in November, and in just 45 days, the challenge managed to raised $1 million to build an overnight shelter, called transitional housing – a major need in the district.

"There are about 721 students experiencing homelessness and over 154 students who are unaccompanied, meaning they're not with their parents and guardian and they're experiencing homelessness," Schaaf said.

Board member Bridget Baar approached Anoka city leaders to open a shelter last year. Redevelopment stopped the plans in their tracks, but the fundraiser has opened conversations in neighboring communities.

Baar's reaction?

"I'm so proud of our community," she said.

"It isn't just tonight that young person will be warm or they'll be safe. It really gives us the opportunity to allow that young person to catch their breath and really plan for their future," Schaaf said.

Hope 4 Youth representatives said the next step is talking to different firms to create a housing plan for these young people. While they don't expect to open an overnight shelter in Anoka, other cities like Blaine and Coon Rapids have talked about it – an effort expected to spread the support throughout the district.

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