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 runaway and homeless youth.
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 help runaway and homeless youth 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 homeless youth, and limited options for long-term housing, in 1997, The Bridge started a Transitions Program, one of the first transitional living programs for homeless youth 16-20 in Minnesota as well as in the nation. This approach expanded programming beyond immediate shelter and case management, and introduced life skills education.
In January 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 began working on T4H (Text4Help), the Twin Cities first 24-hour crisis text line for teens. 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 homeless youth ages 18-21. In 2019, The Bridge repositioned our Transitions Program to open Marlene’s Place, the first and only site-based transitional living program specifically for homeless pregnant or parenting youth (ages 16-20) and their children (ages 0-3) in Hennepin County, to address the critical lack of services available for these youth. In 2020, The Bridge will expand our service continuum for this population by opening Gloria’s Place, the only emergency shelter in Minnesota for unaccompanied homeless parenting youth and their children.
For 50 years, The Bridge has pioneered innovative services and served as a model for effective programming for homeless youth 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 homeless youth. While our programs have evolved to meet the changing times, The Bridge has maintained commitment to homeless and runaway youth: sheltering thousands of youth in crisis, reuniting families, preventing youth homelessness, and helping youth become healthy, productive adults.