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A homeless man asleep outside Seattle's First Presbyterian Church, 7th Avenue & Madison Street, Oct. 15, 2011. Photo Gary Peterson

A homeless man asleep outside Seattle’s First Presbyterian Church, 7th Avenue & Madison Street, Oct. 15, 2011. Photo Gary Peterson

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Nationwide, workers aged 18 to 24 have the highest unemployment rate of all adults and constitute a significant part of the country’s homeless population. Susan Saulny reported from Seattle about this invisible problem in The New York Times, Dec. 18.

In Minnesota, 13,100 people are homeless on any given night. Of these, the Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless reports that 2,500 are unaccompanied youth, a number that has increased 46% since 2006.

The Portico Interfaith Housing Collaborative started life 12 years ago as a ministry of the Plymouth Congregational Church, 1900 Nicollet Avenue, Minneapolis, inspired by members who viewed and mused about a vacant nursing home across the street as they left services every Sunday. Today, Portico is a coalition of 50 congregations that serves 735 residents in multiple facilities with a commitment to end homelessness in the Twin Cities.

One of those facilities, Nicollet Square, opened in December 2010 on the former site of Werness Funeral Home. The new, three-story brick building at 3710 Nicollet Avenue houses young people in studio apartments on the upper two floors, while much of the ground floor is rented by the Butter Bakery CafeRise, Inc., and Life Force Chiropractic.

Nicollet Square, housing for homeless youth in Minneapolis

Nicollet Square, housing for homeless youth in Minneapolis

Half of Nicollet Square’s 42 units are dedicated to the long-term homeless, defined as those who have either been on the street for more than one year or have been without a place to stay four times in three years. The remaining units are designed to prevent homelessness among those who are emerging from and aging out of foster care, and are referred by county agencies.

I joined members of the Wells Foundation board of directors when they visited Nicollet Square last weekend to receive an overview and tour of the project for which they have provided financial support. We gathered initially in the large, ground-floor community room, just inside the 24-hour front desk.

The community room includes a combined kitchenette and television lounge, with large, west-facing windows looking out on a patio, backyard, and alley. A few paces away are small offices forYouthLinkHired, the building’s manager, CommonBond Housing, a work-out room, and a 24-hour computer lab for residents.

People between the ages of 18 and 21 are eligible to take up residence at Nicollet Square, and can remain until they feel ready to move on. Each individual signs a lease and pays rent on his or her studio apartment. Rent charges start at $205 per month upon move in; this rises to $305 in the third year and $405 in the fourth. CommonBond maintains a 24-hour front desk. Residents have keys to their individual units.

Nearly all residents are employed. Within two weeks of moving in, Hired matches them with a “work-fast” internship. These internships are privately subsidized for three months at a level of $1,700. YouthLink provides needed services on a voluntary basis, ranging from therapy to help writing resumes to securing birth certificates and social security cards.

CIMG4051Our tour was led by Lee Blons, executive director, Lee Mauk, board member, and Marlys Weyandt, fund development coordinator. Weyandt explained how, on the streets, a backpack serves as a young person’s “home.” She displayed the contents of a typical backpack, which includes books or textbooks, used for escape or to complete their educations while homeless; unhealthy packaged foods; photos, even to maintain a connection to a lost or negative relationship; a library card which provides a rare but great sense of community; clothes; and sometimes a bus pass.

Nic’s Closet, located on the third floor, provides residents with a range of donated items, including dishes, flatware, photo frames, towels, blankets, brooms, kitchen bags, soap, etc. The second and third levels also hold coin-operated laundry facilities, small lounges, and hallway reading libraries.

Because young men have trouble asking for help, most youth housing has more women residents. The ratio at Nicollet Square, however, is split evenly. Half of new residents have not graduated from high school.

Some statistics:

  • 25% of homeless adults became homeless as children;
  • 45% of homeless youth have been physically or sexually abused;
  • 57% of homeless youth spend at least one day a month without food;
  • 70% of homeless youth were in foster care or other settings before becoming homeless;
  • 22% of those in foster care become homeless in their first year on their own;
  • 42% of those in foster care become homeless at some point in their lives.

All on-site service providers at Nicollet Square act as adult role models for healthy relationships, and provide safety, structure, a safety net, a support network, accountability, and confidence.

Nicollet Square was launched with $350,000 of capital provided by members of the Plymouth Congregational and Westminster Presbyterian churches, and built for $9 million, including federal stimulus funds for shovel-ready projects.

Portico must raise $30,000 per month for ongoing support and operations of Nicollet Square. The monthly cost includes its contracts with Hired, YouthLink, CommonBond, and the work-fast internships. People interested in being helpful can call Portico at 651.789.6260.


Minneapolis, Minnesota

Here is an article of interest from the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper. – GP

Minorities say nonprofit boards not looking deep
enough among their numbers

By April McClellan-Copeland

June 22, 2008
The Plain Dealer

Randell McShepard, vice president of public affairs at RPM International, found himself in high demand last year as 22 nonprofit organizations asked him to serve on their board of directors.

McShepard has a high-profile position at his company and much experience serving on nonprofit boards, including the United Way of Greater Cleveland and Business Volunteers Unlimited, an organization that links businesses and nonprofits and trains nonprofit boards.

But McShepard, who is black, said the 22 invitations really underscore how nonprofits are not digging deep enough to tap into the wealth of talented minority professionals in the community.

Read the full article

Minneapolis, Minnesota

The recent announcement that Theatre de la Jeune Lune will shut down permanently prompted many analyses about what went right as well as wrong during the storied lifetime of a mainstay in the Twin Cities’ cultural milieu.

One commentary by David Hawley on (“With Jeune Lune’s triumphs over and legacy clear, its wondrous nomads move on,” 6/24/08) celebrated both the endings and the beginnings to be found in Jeune Lune’s demise. One passage by Hawley caught my eye, and that of several others:

I remember, decades ago, when I was chatting with a Jeune
Lune core member … who was lamenting about having to deal
with a board of directors in order to gain the benefits of nonprofit status.

“Their job is to get money for us,” the performer said. “But they want to
talk to us about what we’re doing and all that. It’s none of their business
and a terrible waste of time.”


There is no need to pile on and credit this sentiment as a fatal flaw in the organizational culture that led to Jeune Lune’s demise. The sentiment is alive, healthy, and expressed regularly by artists in all disciplines.

I have heard this sentiment, and worse, from agents of more than one arts organization during the current calendar year alone. You also may have heard the comments; hopefully, you have not made them yourself.

“No one, least of all a donor, is going to tell me how to run my organization!”

“I founded this organization and I will shut it down before I give up control!”

These statements do not emanate from mature organizations. They almost always are found among small and midsize groups.

I used to think such expressions were born from desperation and the poverty mentality that grips many in the smaller arts world. Now, I see them as ignorant and arrogant. Or just plain stupid. They hurt all of us.

Any artist who wishes to exercise total control with no accountability is free to operate as a sole proprietor or as a for-profit business. However, once one crosses over and assumes the mantle of an incorporated, 501(c)(3), your business becomes the public’s business. And the public relies upon your board of directors to look after its interests.

We might whine, curse, and complain if we must. Then we need to grow up and step up to the plate of adult nonprofit governance.

The Principles and Practices for Nonprofit Excellence, created by — and available for pdf download from — the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits, articulate 10 principles of accountability and 133 management practices that can inform artists, administrators, board members, and wanna-bees.

For sure, as the Principles state, “Board members should be committed to the mission and dedicated to the success of the nonprofit.” However, “Nonprofit board members are responsible to make decisions in the interest of the organization and no other party, including themselves.”

The Center for Nonprofit Management at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis offers regular classes in all aspects of nonprofit management and governance. One need not be a regularly-enrolled student to attend. I have found several classes helpful over the years.

Yes, there is a lot of nuance about the checks and balances of governing and managing nonprofits; that is grist for future posts.

The basics remain relevant. If we care enough to do our work in the arts, then we should care enough to get it right in practice and in attitude.

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