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Anyone who has struggled with finances or survival in Duluth, Minnesota knows what the acronym LSS is. It could be a moniker for G O D. Lutheran Social Services is in the salvation business and thankfully, their organizational skills and vision leaves no one in the dark unless an individual refuses to tap into the vast services available. Lutheran Social Services, foundations and local Duluth churches are coming together to build a 10.5 million dollar facility called “The Center for Changing Lives.” It is a joint effort from private donors to foundations, corporations and congregations to increase services to Minnesota homeless and transitional youth in the Twin Ports.
The vision is a stepping stone to the eight Lutheran programs already in place in Duluth. According to the Wilder Foundation, there are 4,000 homeless youth in Minnesota per night. Duluth has 150 homeless youth on the average per night. One successful program in Duluth is the Renaissance Program that provides six beds for a period of up to 18 months. Teens ranging from 16-21 can live there and develop their employment and life skills. Educational support is also provided. The track record has been a 90% success rate of not returning to homelessness after being in this program. Oh No 18 is a service for young people transitioning out of foster care who may not have the support system in place once they emancipate from government service. It offers independent living skills, group training and individual transition planning and services, with a strong focus on personal growth, adventure based learning, and team building skills. This is for 16-21 year olds who aged out of the government foster system and programs are offered in Cloquet, the Iron Range and Duluth. Another Door Transitional Living Program is for youth who need a place to stay who are facing acute homelessness.
In addition to providing safe, short-term housing, LSS Another Door offers supportive assistance to help develop a plan to achieve goals and support transition to stability. They also show youth how to access community resources they may be unaware of. There is also “Together for Youth” which is a support group for LGBT Duluth Youth who can meet once a week from 4-6 p.m. at Gloria Dei Lutheran church for a sense of community and battling adversity. Other programs include a free walk in Teen Clinic, a truancy program and runaway program. The Bethany Youth Crisis Shelter is a 24/7 place for families who need to access help immediately. The shelter provides transportation, supervised daily living, emergency foster care and individual counseling. A crisis nursery also helps struggling families and stressed out parents who need immediate help. One new program that will be added is an undisclosed safe house for teenagers who are sexually abused or trafficked. This is an important cultural dilemma that many states are facing.
The walk in health clinic for youth that currently exists on the second floor of the Light House in Duluth would be expanded under the new facility. Bob Sherman has been named Capital Campaign Director in the Duluth offices of St.-Paul based Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota. Bob provided the core of the information for this article. He is leading efforts to raise $10.5 million for the new Center for Changing Lives. Almost half of it is raised. Donations can be made at www.fromhereon.org. Thrivent Financial for Lutherans is matching individual donations. The Center will be located on Superior Street between 14th and 15th Avenue East in Duluth, will serve as a hub for all of LSS’ services for homeless and at-risk youth.
Bob Sherman stated that with a pledge of the City of Duluth of $400,000 and over $3 million from private donors, they are just waiting on the Minnesota Housing Finance agency to come up with a $6 million dollar grant to enable LSS to break ground in 2016. Minnesota is one of the few states that puts their causes into action where other state governments have failed to meet the growing demand for social services and the shrinking services of public social services. Mike was an 18 year old who became homeless when his parents rejected him for who he was. He had $40 when he left the house and he camped in a local campground, sometimes showering at a friend’s house. He was in limbo for a long time. The Renaissance program accepted Mike after a referral in which he was able to complete his education, find a job and housing. He eventually got a job at Renaissance to help other youth. Duluth has demonstrated through coordinated dedication and like-minded organizations that they are committed to their youth. If you want to find out more and how to help, the website www.lssmn.org explains all the programs that are currently in place along with phone numbers on how to access the programs.