On University Avenue in St. Paul, yellow, green and red paint covers the walls of a new housing unit for homeless teens and young adults to transition into living independently. The Mino Oski Ain Dah Yung Center (Good New Home in Ojibwe), focuses on supporting youth with knowing their Native identity, finding jobs and living in stable homes.
“Many Native youth do not have a sense of who they are as young Native people, due to decades of historical trauma that is still very present today,” said Deb Foster, the director of the Ain Dah Yung Center since 2009.
The Ain Dah Yung Center (ADYC) includes an emergency shelter for runaway and homeless Native American youth, family advocacy, chemical dependency prevention programming, street outreach, children and family case management, mental health services, ICWA court monitoring/legal services, child welfare advocacy and transitional housing.
Foster and others at the center noticed the gap found in homeless youth turning 18 and losing benefits and aging out of foster care, while faced with the reality of adulthood: work, school and rent. The “Good New Home” addresses this problem by providing homeless young adults a place to call their own and provides the time they need to gain the experiences to become truly self-sufficient.
Nov. 20, 2020 marked the one-year anniversary of the Mino Oski Ain Dah Yung building. With 42 beds available, the permanent supportive housing project provides apartments to homeless youth ages 18-24. The residents pay 30% of their income to rent.
ADYC began leasing the Mino Oski Ain Dah Yung housing units in October 2019 and was fully leased by February 2020. With the rise in COVID-19 cases, the center moved to virtual operations a few days before Governor Tim Walz announced a statewide shutdown. The center received a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan in April, a loan program meant for small businesses that were losing money and faced staffing cuts. That loan, along with funding from many foundations and donors the center already works with, helped ADYC stay afloat financially.
The struggle came when trying to run the center and other operations with half the staff and reducing the number of youth they could serve due to respect for safety standards set by the COVID-19 restrictions.
“Just like that, there was no face-to-face contact, the residents couldn’t come in, sit down and tell us how their day’s going,” Foster said.
Teachings on traditional tobacco, medicines and beadwork went online. American Indian drumming, singing and language was taught through Zoom. Initially when they needed to move to mostly virtual, the residents did miss some time discovering their cultural identity and personal goal achievements. Powwows and classes were moved to virtual, postponed or cancelled. This posed a problem for youth with little access to technology like iPads or computers. ADYC staff worked in partnership with Ramsey County and other partners and were eventually able to secure computers for all the youth and families they work with.
“These kids are just trying to survive,” Foster said. “Most have been homeless for five plus years and struggling, then finally have an apartment that they can call home. Our support suddenly becomes virtual; and they can’t go anywhere. The world becomes hard and scary.”
While Native Americans make up 2% of Minnesota’s population, they account for 22% of the youth homeless population.
Foster said what sets Mino Oski Ain Dah Yung apart from other housing projects is its emphasis on establishing cultural identity for the youth right from the beginning. The facility teaches Native traditions so the youth can say, “I know who I am and I’m proud of who I am.” The establishment of a positive self-identity is a critical first step towards their success while initiating goals in education, jobs and other areas.
Other benefits include learning from Transition Coaches and other staff, who teach entrepreneurial skills, workforce training, financial management and things like medicaid and insurance. The facility includes a workforce training center, cultural activities center, food shelf, clothing closet, a mini-credit store, a state-of-the art community training center, and an art gallery along with a community kitchen.
“We know that once our young Native people have opportunities to strengthen and/or establish a sense of true self-identity, they can successfully work through all their other life goals,” Foster said.