By: Christa Meland
When John Kimmes joined new church start Mosaic about four years ago, he was shocked to learn that youth homelessness was a problem in his Brooklyn Park community. He was also surprised to find out that the widespread stereotypes about homeless youth—they are people who made bad decisions that landed them in their current circumstances—simply aren’t true.
“Learning the truth hit the compassion button for me,” he said. “Ninety percent of these kids are great kids. They had a house yesterday and now they don’t.”
For the past few years, Kimmes, Mosaic, and its leader, Rev. Rachel McIver Morey, have been actively working to address youth homeless in the northern Twin Cities suburbs. Their efforts have resulted in a food shelf that serves 20 to 50 youth each month—and a 12-bed homeless youth shelter that’s now under construction. When it’s finished in January, it will be the Twin Cities area’s first suburban youth shelter with emergency beds.
More than 50 city officials and community activists from numerous agencies in Brooklyn Park and the surrounding area attended a Wednesday celebration to honor Morey and thank her for being a driving force in making the shelter a reality. The cities of Brooklyn Park and Brooklyn Center both designated Nov. 19 “Rachel McIver Morey Day,” and those who spoke about her efforts included mayors, police officials, and heads of various agencies—including the YMCA and Avenues for Homeless Youth, a nonprofit agency that runs a shelter in North Minneapolis and will run the new Brooklyn Park shelter.
It all began in mid-2010 when Morey was assigned to plant a church in the area. She set up meetings with city officials, police, school district representatives, and members of other agencies to learn about the needs in her mission field. Again and again, youth homelessness was cited as a primary concern.
She was particularly struck when a junior high principal asked her if she could help some pregnant teens find a place to stay after they’d been kicked out of their families’ homes. After praying for the girls and spending some sleepless nights thinking about them, she picked up the phone and began trying to find partners and address the problem.
“The guiding principle is: What is God calling me to do?” said Morey. “That was God calling me to action. Once I said ‘yes’ to it, I had never felt so secure in my calling.”
A food shelf was Morey’s first goal because food needs could be addressed more easily than housing needs. The Brooklyn Area Ministerial Alliance, comprised of Morey and other local faith leaders, immediately got behind the idea—and Community Emergency Assistance Programs, a local emergency services agency, agreed to provide the food. Mosaic—still in its infancy and not yet a worshipping congregation—agreed to pick up the food each month and maintain and stock the food shelf, which was initially housed inside Brooklyn United Methodist Church, where Mosaic was meeting and Morey was based. The YMCA agreed to staff the food shelf with community workers. By August 2011, the food shelf was up and running. It has since changed locations and expanded to include a clothing closet.
Through the food shelf, for those between 12 and 21, Morey got to know many of the homeless youth personally. She still remembers the first person who came right after it opened—a girl who hadn’t had a meal for two weeks and had been living with friends. She also recalls talking with a 20-year-old whose dad had just taken off and left him after getting a job in Costa Rica. He was working and trying to make ends meet but still having a hard time—and he was thrilled that the food shelf also had toiletries like contact solution because he’d been putting his contacts in water for a month.
Most of the youth Morey encountered didn’t actually think of themselves as homeless, she said, because they had a friend’s couch to sleep on for the coming evening. But finding sleeping arrangements was a day-to-day challenge for most of them, and their solutions were always temporary.
After the food shelf was going strong, Morey knew it was time to start working on a shelter—and she began sharing her vision within the community.
The first meeting to discuss a shelter took place in March 2013 and included Morey, the Brooklyn Park mayor, and a representative from Avenues for Homeless Youth. It didn’t take long for the city to approve funding for the $1 million facility, give the necessary approval for the building, and begin construction. Brooklyn Park partnered with the Brooklyn Area Ministerial Association and others to raise money for annual program costs, and several cities have allocated grants to be put toward operations.
Both Morey and Kimmes, who has been instrumental in delivering food to the food shelf and keeping it cleaned and stocked, insist that starting the food shelf and helping to secure the shelter were easy.
“The Mosaic model is we partner and partner and partner again,” said Morey, after whom one of the shelter’s rooms will be named. Community agencies quickly saw Morey and Mosaic as partners (and vice versa) and were eager to work together to address a pressing community issue.
“You become a community chaplain,” Morey said about the relationships she formed along the way. Some of those who she encountered began to think of church in a new way after seeing firsthand the positive impact that a church could make in its community.
Mosaic, which is now a ministry of Brooklyn United Methodist Church, has a core group of about 15 people. But Morey and that small group made a lasting impact through their dedication to sharing God’s love and healing a broken world.
“Live the way that Christ dictates—his example is the thing we strive for,” said Kimmes. “Everybody can do something. You don’t have to think, ‘that’s too much for me’ or ‘this isn’t my problem.’ If everybody does one thing, it will make a difference and change a kid’s life.”
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church