• November 2018

A Place to Call Home
VOA, Dakotas addresses youth homelessness

By Mike Lynch
Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce

All too often, the acknowledgment and understanding of homelessness within a community is under recognized, leaving the vulnerable underserved. Most residents in our area and throughout the country are fortunate to have a safe and secure place to live, absent from the realization of how some struggle to survive. By and large, this isn't a deliberate act of neglect, but instead a result of one's busyness of life and an inability to identify the juxtaposition of those who have shelter and those who don't.

The need for youth housing in the Sioux Falls area is acute. During the 2017-18 school year, 1,256 homeless students were identified in the Sioux Falls school district, with 102 of those between the ages of 16-21. Through its upcoming Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce Community Appeals "HomePlace" campaign, Volunteers of America, Dakotas plans to confront youth homelessness by constructing multi-unit, transitional housing to serve youth.

The campaign, which runs Nov. 1, 2018 to March 31, 2019, plans to raise $1.25 million of its overall goal of $3.5 million. It is being led by volunteer co-chairs Julie Nelson, American Bank & Trust; Tony Nour, First PREMIER Bank; Mike Teslow, Swenson Investments & Commodities; and Curt Zaske.

HomePlace, which will be located near Roosevelt High School with easy access to public transportation, is an added component to VOA Dakotas' existing Axis180 program, which began in 2001. Financial support from multiple sources has allowed VOA Dakotas to serve this population by covering the cost of housing and providing services. The current building, however, is in need of extensive maintenance and repairs, and only allows up to 10 young people to be served at a time.

Beyond housing, the Axis 180 program offers educational support, employment assistance, life skills training, professional educated staff available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, connections to community resources and follow up case management after a transition.

"There is no other organization in the area that is meeting these needs in this way," said VOA Dakotas President/CEO Dennis Hoffman. "We have seen the impact that the Axis180 program has had on its participants, and we look forward to expanding our services to meet this growing need better."

The new facility will allow VOA Dakotas to serve 21 youth in an accommodating environment. Funds raised through the Community Appeals campaign will directly impact the brick and mortar portion of this project, allowing VOA Dakotas to break ground and begin construction.

Hoffman considers VOA Dakotas a ministry, called to serve people on the path to transformation. "We demonstrate God's love by serving a wide demographic by helping them achieve their full potential. Our trained, professional staff is dedicated to humble service, stewardship, and quality."

An essential point that Hoffman would like the Sioux Falls community to understand is that no young person chooses to experience homelessness. Instead, they sometimes face difficult circumstances that contribute to their homelessness, including family dysfunction, abuse at home, aging out of the foster care system, exiting the juvenile justice system and economic hardship.

By contributing to this campaign, Hoffman believes it will help young people overcome homelessness and become successful members of society. "Our community thrives and grows when individuals are inspired to commit to innovative solutions. When we set vulnerable populations up for success, we are helping them to become contributing members of our community and cultivating a healthy society."

Additionally, Hoffman says that VOA Dakotas is not only providing homeless youth with a safe living environment, complete with the resources necessary to be self-sufficient, but is also providing the tools they need to be better neighbors, employees, and parents. Efforts like this one also help to reduce generational homelessness and involvement in the justice system, thereby decreasing city-funded interventions, such as incarceration.

The positive effects of VOA Dakotas extend well beyond those in need of shelter, however, as the business community is also a benefactor of its services. "When we can help individuals get out of poverty, find jobs and contribute to society, they become better consumers and are more inclined to avoid situations that compromise the business community," Hoffman said. "They also become more likely to be involved and engaged with businesses."

For more information on HomePlace and the mission of VOA Dakotas, please visit voa-dakotas.org.

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