A new supportive housing development with a focus on American Indian youth is now open near the METRO Green Line’s Victoria Street Station, a development that could help Metro Transit police build stronger bonds with young people they encounter.
The University Avenue building, celebrated at a Wednesday, Nov. 20, grand opening, includes 42 low-cost apartments for 18- through 24-year-olds who might not otherwise have a place to call home.
“With a shelter over their heads, they can think about school, jobs, having a future,” said Carol LaFleur, an associate community outreach coordinator with the Metro Transit Police Department’s Homeless Action Team (HAT).
LaFleur has spent the past several years helping police make inroads in the American Indian community. Among the organizations the department has partnered with is the Ain Dah Yung Center, one of the main groups behind the new housing project.
Police officers have been frequent visitors at the Ain Dah Yung Center, another St. Paul-based emergency shelter, and hope to have even more opportunities to interact at the new building, known as Mino Oski Ain Dah Yung. In Ojibwe, the name means Good New Home.
Among their duties, HAT officers and supporters point people they encounter on transit toward housing and other resources. Housing needs are especially acute among American Indians; only 2% of the state’s population is American Indian, but 22% of the state’s homeless youth is American Indian.
In addition to the connections between officers and youth, the Council supported the project with a grant and its Metro Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA) is providing some residents rental assistance.
Sheri Riemers, Mino Oski Ain Dah Yung’s government and community relations director, said the Council’s support is invaluable.
“Our youth are only beginning their struggles,” Riemers said. “`The Metro HRA housing vouchers have been golden.”
The new building provides more than a place to stay, however.
Residents will have access to academic and mental health services, and the facility is imbued with American Indian culture, including medicine gardens, a sweat lodge and programs on everything from ceremonial drum-making to storytelling.
“To know our roots – where we came from or who we are – is extremely important,’’ said LaFleur, who is an Ojibwe descendant and experienced homelessness earlier in her life. “We’re trying to come back from having so much taken away.”