Rochester's Hidden Problem: Homeless Youth

Posted at: 02/20/2013 5:34 PM
Updated at: 02/20/2013 6:34 PM
By: James Wilcox

(ABC 6 NEWS) -- There is a growing problem in Rochester many feel is going under the radar, homeless children. The numbers are rising rapidly, and city and school leaders say there aren't enough resources to keep up with the increasing demand.

It's Minnesota's fastest growing and third largest city. It is home to a world renowned medical clinic and a technology giant. But there is a dark side to the city that has been named one of America's best.

"I was literally living in my car. I had all my possessions inside a Ford Tempo. A very small car," says Logan Bush.

At age 17, Logan Bush became homeless. 

Logan says, "My parents were both pretty bad alcoholics. They've lost our house and apartments over the years, but they lost our apartment. I literally had no where else to go."

And Logan isn't alone. He's one of roughly 300 students in the Rochester Public School District considered homeless.

"One child in every classroom of 30 students is homeless or at risk of homelessness," says Mary Gorfine.

Gorfine is with the Rochester - Olmsted County Youth Commission. For the past three years, the group has been working to bring awareness to the issue.

Gorfine says, "There are more children and families and unaccompanied youth than we would like to think in our community."

It's a problem highlighted in an extensive study done last year. It looks into the growing problem of homeless families and youth in Rochester.

"I think what a lot of people don't realize the trauma that's associated with homelessness," says Gorfine.

And many don't even realize such homelessness exists because the families aren't sleeping on park benches or living under bridges. That's a common misconception.

"A lot of these families are doubled or tripled up with relatives or acquaintances in housing that may not be adequate or safe," says Gorfine.

And for teens, or those without parents, many stay with friends jumping from couch to couch. That's what Logan did.

Logan says, "I was was freaking out because what happens if this was long term what happens if I couldn't find a place to stay."

"To ask students to learn when all they can think about is where they're going to be sleeping that night I think is putting an unrealistic burden on a child," says Melissa Brandt. 

Brandt is the students in transition coordinator for the Rochester Public School District. Her job is to help homeless kids. She says the number of children without a permanent home has increased dramatically over the years.

When the district started keeping its most accurate numbers in the 2007-2008 school year, there were 114 homeless kids. That number increased to 141, 213, and in the 2010-2011 school year there were 306 homeless students.

And with the numbers growing so quickly, the goal now is figuring out what needs to be done.

Brandt says, "The one big thing that's missing, without question in Rochester, is affordable housing."

Brandt and Gorfine also says there is a need for temporary housing and other programs to help parents and children.

"Dorothy Day is there, Interfaith Hospitality is there, they're both wonderful programs. The Women's Shelter is also a wonderful program, but they aren't able to meet the needs anymore in this community," says Gorfine.

She hopes the recent student is the start of a solution.

"Our first step was to collect data so when we go to get funding for a program there is data that illustrates the need," says Gorfine.

Logan was able to get the help he needed. He's now living in foster care.

"I got my feet on the ground. Just need to keep going forward," Logan says.

And the goal is to keep Rochester moving forward as well. Not just as a thriving city, but one that looks out for those who call it home.

Rochester isn't the only city with homeless students, but the numbers in Rochester are growing the quickest. We checked with Austin and Albert Lea and found 23 students are considered homeless in the Austin Public School District. There are 15 in Albert Lea.