In 1970, citizens on the west bank of Minneapolis noticed an increasing number of runaway youth in the neighborhood. Sister Rita Steinhagen, a nun in the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, emerged as a leader and advocate for these youth. At first, she allowed some of them to stay at the nun’s residence, and then secured a property and funding to shelter young people for a short time.
The Bridge was originally founded to serve only girls who would stay for three to five days. However, services quickly expanded to serve boys as well. At first, St. Joseph’s Home was the fiscal manager of the funds, which were provided by the Minneapolis Foundation. The Bridge was named after the Simon & Garfunkel song, “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” and modeled after the Huckleberry House of San Francisco, which was the first runaway house in the United States.
On February 3, 1972, The Bridge became a privately incorporated nonprofit, with funding from the Governor’s Crime Commission. The Bridge was the first runaway shelter in the nation to receive federal funding.
The Bridge quickly emerged as a national leader in the field of homeless youth. In 1972, Sister Marlene Barghini (our first Executive Director) 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, updated for the modern world with the addition of a text hotline.
By 1975, the organization had outgrown its original home at 608 20th Ave S and purchased a building at 2200 Emerson Ave S. In 1981, when Tom Sawyer became Executive Director, The Bridge was a 12 bed, 3-5 day shelter. In the 1980s, we also ran a program called New Bridge, which served young women leaving prostitution. Aftercare began in the mid-80s and continues to be a big part of our programs.
Also in the mid-1980s, the Bridge collaborated with Evergreen of Bemidji (another shelter for homeless youth) to found MARYS (Minnesota Association of Runaway Youth Services). MARYS was the major contributor to getting the National Runaway and Homeless Youth Act passed in the legislature.
In 1997, the Bridge opened a transitional living program, which helps youth learn life skills and transition out of homelessness. Originally, this program served up to 8 young people for a maximum of 90 days each. Today, Transitions has 10 beds and youth can stay for up to 18 months.
Over the decades, The Bridge continued to grow and became one of the most respected nonprofits serving homeless youth. The Bridge’s leadership invested in a number of additional programs over those decades, but maintained its core focus of serving homeless and runaway youth.
In 2008, the entire country was devastated by the Great Recession, and the Bridge was no exception. The organization experienced dramatic funding losses and operating deficits, as well as quick turnover in leadership – whereas there were three Executive Directors in its first 31 years, there have been five since 2001. In an attempt to secure grants in a highly competitive environment, The Bridge began to drift from its core mission and focus on mental health.
By 2016, referrals had dropped precipitously, program utilization was extremely low (around 4-6 youth per night with 14 beds available in the Emergency Shelter Program), community relationships were fractured and the organization was spread too thin. The board brought on new leadership and refocused on the core services.
We’ve reinstated the role of Family Counselor and aftercare, strengthened our relationships with external partners including the StreetWorks Collaborative and other youth serving organizations, built a culture of listening to youth by instating a Youth Board, and achieved financial solvency. We’ve also improved our HR practices and restructured our intern program. By 2020, we plan to once again be seen as a leader in our field, with full utilization and a sustainable endowment. We’ve made great strides to get where we are today, and need your support to keep on going.
The Bridge for Youth’s mission is to provide runaway and homeless youth safe shelter, assist in the prevention and resolution of family conflicts and reunify families whenever possible.
The Bridge for Youth will be a premier resource for diverse populations of youth and families needing help by offering:
¨ Support that empowers
¨ Safe shelter
¨ Sustainable tools for success and restorations of relationships, and,
¨ When possible, reunification