When Gecora and her family moved from Chicago to Minnesota, she was excited to start somewhere new. After her father’s growing struggles with addiction led Gecora’s family to homelessness, the excitement she felt turned to disappointment and fear. “I had no idea what was going to happen to us,” she said. Gecora, who was trying to finish high school and get to college, did what she could to help. But a part-time job wasn’t enough. “A lot of the money I earned, my father used to buy his drugs,” she said.
Gecora knew that the longer she stayed in an unsafe, unhealthy environment, the more she was jeopardizing any chance to succeed. She made the decision to leave her family and try to make it on her own. “I was scared, but anything else had to be better than where I was,” she said.
After spending a few nights riding the bus and wandering Minneapolis’ streets alone, Gecora learned of LSS Safe House, an emergency shelter for youth ages 16 to 20-years-old. Last year, LSS of MN metro housing programs for youth – Rezek House, LifeHaven, Safe House and the Transitional Living project – served 210 young people and their children.
“Our work is as unique as the kids we see come through our doors,” said Monica Jones, program coordinator for LSS Youth and Family Services. “They’ve each been through something different, but their need for safety and stability connects them. We make sure they know that what they’ve experienced isn’t their fault, that they are capable of turning their lives around, and that we will walk beside them every step of the way.”
When she moved into the family-style home on a quiet St. Paul street, Gecora finally had the unconditional support and guaranteed safety she needed to get back on track in school. “School was a way to get away from the real world,” she said. “It was a place where I could find support from caring teachers and social workers and have fun with my friends – many of them didn’t even know I was homeless.”
Gecora stayed at Safe House for more than a month before she was approved for an apartment at LSS’ Rezek House, a two-year transitional housing program for youth experiencing homelessness. At first living alone was scary, but she adjusted well. She got a job and regained focus to excel in her classes. While LSS staff cheered her on, Gecora worked very hard and graduated high school with a 3.5 GPA. She is now looking forward to enrolling in college courses.
“Gecora and many other kids come to Rezek and Safe House because they don’t have anywhere else to go to find the security and safety necessary to their success,” said Monica Jones, program coordinator for LSS of MN. “Here, kids know they are loved and safe and they don’t need to worry about finding their next meal. They are able to plan their futures.”