The Bridge for Youth was founded in 1970 by local activists, Sister Rita Steinhagen and Sister Marlene Barghini of The Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, who noticed growing numbers of unaccompanied youth on the streets of Minneapolis and were concerned about their vulnerability to exploitation, prostitution, violence, and illness. They opened The Bridge on the West Bank as one of the nation’s first refuges for youth experiencing homelessness. The Bridge quickly emerged as a national leader in the field of homeless youth. In 1972, The Bridge testified in front of the U.S. Subcommittee on Children & Youth regarding the importance of crisis hotlines – a system that continues to be integral to The Bridge.
The Bridge moved to the East Isles neighborhood in 1975, expanding to twelve emergency shelter beds and adding a full continuum of care to youth experiencing homelessness safely reach adulthood and become contributing members of the community. Maintaining a commitment to collaboration, in the mid-1980’s The Bridge partnered with Evergreen Youth & Family Services to develop and launch the Minnesota Association of Runaway Youth Services (MARYS).
Recognizing the unique needs of older youth experiencing homelessness, and limited options for long-term housing, in 1997, The Bridge started a Transitions Program, one of the first transitional living programs for youth ages 16-20 experiencing homelessness in Minnesota, as well as one of the first in the nation. This approach expanded programming beyond immediate shelter and case management and introduced life skills education.
In 2008, The Bridge completed a $7.6 million capital campaign that doubled capacity for residential programming, and provided additional program space for medical care, tutoring, work readiness, life skills training, and youth empowerment activities. In 2013, in response to changing needs of youth, The Bridge developed T4H (Text4Help), the Twin Cities first 24-hour crisis text line for youth. A few years later, in 2015, The Bridge played an instrumental role in the development and launch of YSNMN.org, an innovative mobile app that offers real-time information on available beds and services. Today, The Bridge continues to host YSNMN.org and is an active member of the YSNMN Collaborative.
In 2018, The Bridge opened Rita’s House, offering affordable rental housing in an innovative intentional community for youth ages 18-21 experiencing homelessness. In 2019, The Bridge evolved our Transitions Program into Marlene’s Place, the first and only site-based transitional living program specifically for pregnant or parenting youth experiencing homelessness (ages 16-20) and their children (ages 0-3) in Hennepin County. In 2020, The Bridge expanded programming for this population with the opening of Gloria’s Place, the only emergency shelter in Minnesota for unaccompanied minor parenting youth experiencing homelessness and their children.
For over 50 years, The Bridge has pioneered innovative services and served as a model for effective programming for youth experiencing homelessness and their families. What started as one of the first programs in the Twin Cities and the nation to provide refuge from child abuse, teen prostitution, drug abuse, and domestic violence, is today one of the most respected nonprofits in the country serving youth experiencing homelessness. While programs have evolved to meet the changing needs of youth, The Bridge has maintained commitment to youth experiencing homelessness, sheltering thousands of youth in crisis, reuniting families, preventing youth homelessness, and empowering youth to become healthy, productive adults