Writer’s Block: Help for homeless youth

by Elyse Kaner

When I recently wrote a story on the alarming increase in the number of homeless children in Anoka County, Rhonda Sivarajah, Anoka County Board chairperson, said the solution was up to the community. “This is a community plan, not a government plan,” she said about HeadingHome Anoka, a regional initiative to end homelessness.

Her comments got me to thinking about the word community. Commune. Commonality. Unity. Surely, unite fits in there somewhere. The Online Etymology Dictionary explains the word community evolved in the late 14th century from the old French communité, meaning commonness, everybody.

Remarkably, in this season of goodwill and giving, in this season of the shrinking dollar and high unemployment, plunging home values and escalating gas prices, community reigns in Anoka County.

The homeless story, which ran in our newspapers Nov. 25 during Homelessness Awareness Month, sparked an outpouring of generous responses. People dug deeply into their pockets and selflessly came up with donation upon donation to help these kids. A total of 576 homeless children in families and 132 unaccompanied youth under the age of 21. Kids who are homeless by no faults of their own.

People donated supplies. Clothes. Dollars. Some come up with their own solutions. Susan Neumann, president of the new Cityside Bar and Grill (formerly Paddy Wagon’s Irish Sports Pub) in Coon Rapids, for one. Neumann, the mother of 26-year-old male twins, said the story caused tears to well in her eyes. “I just have a hard time with seeing children in such bad situations,” she said. “Not to have a roof over their heads just breaks my heart.”

So Neumann took it upon herself to contact a dental office and ask for supplies. She was not disappointed. An Edina firm, Family & Cosmetic Gentle Dentistry, came up with a load of toothpaste, toothbrushes and floss. She contacted a hair salon, Simonson’s Salon & Spa in Anoka. The employees chipped in and bought personal supplies. Walmart gave a $50 gift card. With the card, Neumann purchased gloves to help warm the kids’ hands.

But she didn’t stop there. At first she had wanted to host a Christmas party for the children, but timing was tight. She still plans to host a get-together at the restaurant, probably in January, she said. Moreover, Neumann is starting her own homeless youth campaign of sorts – K-I-D-S, (Kick-In-Do-Something). She is now in the process of contacting local restaurants and asking them to donate one meal a day to homeless kids. She, of course, will do the same at her own restaurant. Taking it a step further, she plans to hire a few kids to work in the restaurant’s kitchen.

“It will give them an opportunity to grow and give them a couple of dollars in their pockets,” she said.

In other acts of kindness, a reader named George suggested an idea for use of Metrodome. “Can you imagine how many people we could house if the Metrodome was made into temporary emergency housing or if we could take that $600 million (plus) and build shelters in every county for the homeless to go and be safe at?” he wrote in an e-mail.
In another kind gesture, Bridgette Kasper, an associate at our parent company ECM, took it upon herself to collect money for homeless youth. She raised more than $400 with the help of individual contributions from employees and our Community (there’s that word again) Action Council, a community-based giving program. Employees also donated hats, boots and soaps. She delivered the donations to the Anoka-Hennepin School District’s homeless children’s program based in the Family Welcome Center in Coon Rapids.

Karrie Schaaf, homeless youth and families liaison at the center, wants this “compassionate community” to know how grateful she is that citizens stepped up to give.

“Once people are educated about the issue, they then are able to take action in a way that is meaningful to them –whether it be volunteering, donating, increasing awareness within their circle of friends or networking with others in hopes of greater change, like increasing funding to serve those experiencing homelessness, opening a youth shelter, (or) supporting a host home network in Anoka County,” she said.

Wouldn’t that be nice?


To read the homeless youth story visit http://abcnewspapers.com/2011/11/22/youth-homelessness-on-the-rise-in-anoka-county/.

  • Jmhays

    Your paper needs to contact Paladin Academy to report how they are serving many youth that are homeless and are Anoka hennipen students that the district isn’t serving and Paladin is meeting their education needs as well as emotional social needs. This charter school deserves support from the community for the fabulous job they are doing.