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YouthLink’s New Service Model Supports Health and Wellness of Young People Experiencing Homelessness


In 2018, the Medica Foundation awarded a $200,000 grant to YouthLink, a Minneapolis nonprofit that connects youth ages 16-24 who are experiencing homelessness with community resources to meet their immediate needs and help them build stable futures. There is a desperate need for their services. On any given night, as many as 6,000 Minnesota young people experience homelessness.

“YouthLink used our grant to develop a holistic, trauma-informed service model that enables them to integrate health and wellness support into every point of contact with the youth they serve,” says JoAnn Birkholz, executive director of the Medica Foundation.

The needs of homeless youth go beyond food, shelter and safety. More than 80% of the 2,000 young people YouthLink serves each year have experienced some form of abuse, trauma or victimization in their lives.

Survivors of childhood trauma often have difficulty regulating their emotions in response to stress, which can lead to negative consequences in housing, school, employment and relationships. With our grant, YouthLink invested in important training to help staff to recognize the many stress triggers of homeless youth. YouthLink also created a dedicated space where young people can relax, center themselves and practice self-calming skills.

With its new integrative wellness services model in place for the challenges of 2020, which included a pandemic and social unrest in the streets of Minneapolis, YouthLink transformed from an organization that focused on crisis intervention to one that is well-equipped to provide long-term solutions for the unique mental, physical, emotional and spiritual needs of young people experiencing homelessness.