“You will never get this in my neighborhood,” a city council member told her. “I will do everything I can to stop you.”
Others thought Michelle was too young, that she did not have enough experience. But Michelle was anything but swayed. She became even more determined; her energy and drive gained friends and supporters who would help her dream become reality.
For example, John Kostishak of the Otto Bremer Foundation assisted in assembling funding to purchase a house that had served as a for-profit homeless shelter near Uptown. The place had fallen into disrepair, so the City gave six months to get it up to code and licensed to serve ten youth, ages 13-17.
Project Foundation opened its doors on December 5, 1994. These were ten much-needed beds during a cold winter. The shelter was full every night and served over 200 youth in its first year.
Even after opening, the path was not easy. But there were moments that you could call little nonprofit miracles.
“We lived for the first year literally hand to mouth,” remembers Michelle in a recent interview. “There were many times when we couldn’t make payroll, we didn’t have any money and so weird things would happen. Like one time, when we couldn’t make payroll, I was sitting on the porch going ‘What the heck do I do?’ The doorbell rang and it was a nun. She handed us a check for $10,000, said ‘God bless you’ and walked away.”
The desire to see Project Foundation and other programs working with homeless youth flourish led the organization to be involved in efforts (past and current) to get the Minnesota Legislature to adopt policies and appropriate funding for homeless youth programs.
The organization grew strong enough to, in just three years, open a second facility in North Minneapolis. The building, a large brick house on Oak Park Avenue, now serves as the home of Avenues for Homeless Youth.
In the early 2000s, Michelle surveyed what she had accomplished and decided she could hand over the organization to others and follow her dream to attend law school. Still, it was difficult to let go of this incredible effort.
After Michelle’s departure, the south and north houses of Project Foundation both continued to be full every night. But, like many young nonprofits, the organization relied heavily on government funding. The loss of a critical government grant, when social service budgets were being cut across the board, knocked Project Foundation off balance.
Without a financial buffer to stay afloat, the Board of Directors made the decision in 2003 to suspend services and develop a plan to reorganize and reopen. This was a difficult, but necessary, time in the history of the organization. The Board worked hard and the community rallied around saving the youth shelter beds. With a grant from the Otto Bremer Foundation and the loan of Beth Holger-Ambrose from The Bridge for Youth, the doors re-opened in just six months at the North House.
To prepare for the future, in January 2004, the Board of Directors developed a new strategic plan and selected a new name for the organization – Avenues for Homeless Youth. Since that time, Avenues has been on a path to sustain and strengthen services, while strategically expanding to support more homeless youth.
In January 2007, Avenues took in the GLBT Host Home Program to provide community-based housing for homeless youth who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender. Originally housed at partner agency YouthLink, this innovative program supports volunteers in the community who are willing to share their space and resources on a transitional basis with a young person experiencing homelessness. It has become a model for similar programs locally and across the country.
Avenues’ current executive director, Deborah Loon, joined the organization in early 2008. Deb has worked with Avenues’ Board of Directors, management team and donors to lead the organization to a position of fiscal and programmatic strength and stability, and then onto expansion to support more youth.
Avenues launched the Suburban Host Home Program (fall of 2011), in collaboration with the program’s Action Council and many partners. This new program provides community-based housing to youth through caring volunteers in the suburbs of Hennepin County.
Less than a year later, Avenues added five beds at the North Minneapolis Shelter location. Thanks to start-up funding for expanded operations from the Otto Bremer Foundation, Avenues now has 20 program beds plus 1 overnight emergency bed with expanded supportive services and a principles-based approach to working with homeless youth. Also in 2012, the Minneapolis Host Home Program began its operations.
In 2014, Avenues has worked with the City of Brooklyn Park and community leaders and partners to create a second location, called Brooklyn Avenues. This new 12-bed shelter and transitional housing program, opening January 2015, supports homeless youth from the northwest suburbs.
As we observe 20 years of serving youth and reflect back on the efforts of everyone involved – from our founder, Michelle Basham, to those who have supported the organization throughout its existence. This includes all the hard-working and dedicated staff, volunteers, Board members, donors and partners!
Finally – and most importantly – we honor the thousands of youth who have passed through Avenues doors, trusted us and given us the privilege of supporting them.
We are honored to be a part of the very important cause of helping homeless youth move from surviving the streets to thriving young adults. We carry on the vision that began in 1994. A vision that values the journey of the youth we have served in the past two decades, youth who continue to inspire and energize us with their resilience, their humor and their hope.