Article by Claudia Kittock
Editor's note - This is the sixth in a series of articles spotlighting local nonprofits.
Dr. Heather Huseby is a force of nature. She heads YouthLink and is a fierce advocate for the youth who use the services there. When I met Dr. Heather, she taught me that the most important thing we can do for the youth is to gently but firmly nudge them back onto a path, a future, and to support the journey. YouthLink does that. The people there share Dr. Huseby’s vision, and being part of the journey of the young people who come to YouthLink is an honor. I am proud to say I know her and proud to share her with the readers of Mill City Times.
How did you get this position?
I left my position as the Executive Director at Normandale Community College to become an independent consultant. As soon as I did, someone from the community called and encouraged me to consider an opening for a part-time consultant position at YouthLink. At the time, YouthLink was experiencing leadership and organizational difficulties. Coming from 30 years in higher education nonprofit leadership presented some interesting challenges and opportunities. Fortunately, I was hired as a consultant for 15 hours a week to bring alignment to the organizational vision and mission. After two years and hundreds of hours, the board offered me the position of Executive Director on a full-time basis. Our vision and mission was set, our strategic goals were aligned, and our commitment to always keep the needs of young people at the center of our work was a common value.
One thing that stood out in my mind, and still remains in my mind today, was when I walked into what was then the drop-in for my interview for the part-time consultant position. There was a young woman sitting in the drop-in eating her lunch who looked exactly like my daughter. I asked a case manager about her and was told what they were able to tell me – she was homeless, waiting for housing with big dreams and hopes for her future but a lot of barriers in her way. That young woman I saw in the drop-in remains in my heart to this day as a reminder of why I am doing what I do.
What do you do in your current position?
In my current position, I make sure we are in compliance financially with our budget, that we secure and raise funds needed to meet and exceed our goals, and that we remain compliant to the fiduciary guidelines set by the nonprofit standards and laws of the state of Minnesota. It is my responsibility to ensure that our organization remains aligned with our vision and mission, including designing, building, and maintaining programming that transforms young people (16-24) experiencing homelessness into self-sustaining pathways of learning and work. The more than 2,013 unique young people we serve have a light and we want to help them shine - we will help them transform that spark into reality for their aspirations for the future.
"I’d want others to know that any investment
made is an investment in the future. These
young people are the next community leaders
and it’s worth the investment for our communities."
It is my job to make sure the outstanding, dedicated, and excellent staff members at YouthLink have the resources they need to implement the nine evidence-based principles for working with youth – and that they are able to work in an inclusive, safe, and welcoming environment at all times. Finally, my position requires that I work directly with the board of directors to provide the information and knowledge necessary for this group of dedicated volunteers to follow the governance policies and bylaws. My job is making sure the young people we serve receive services of integrity, excellence, and self-empowerment.
What are you doing that is working?
For me, it is vital to always remain focused on a bold, clear, and consistent vision and always remember the bottom line is “what impact will this make on the young people we serve?” When we do that, and when we do that on a consistent basis, it works. When we are sidetracked and lose sight of our vision - when a vision gets buried, water-downed, diffused - conflict and fragmentation happens.
What do you want the politicians of our city/county/state/country to know about the work you do? How can they help?
I want to say there are key public and elected officials who already know a great deal about our work; they continue to help bring about significant change for young people experiencing homelessness. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the leadership of Minneapolis City Council Member Lisa Goodman for her foresight and vision to bring together YouthLink and Project for Pride in Living (PPL) around the idea of creating permanent supportive housing for young people experiencing housing. Her dedication and advocacy is a significant reason “Downtown View” - our new five-story, 47-bed housing facility for 18-24 year young people - will open on site at YouthLink by spring 2018. Council Member Goodman, Council Member John Quincy, along with the entire City Council led by Council President Barbara Johnson has continually supported the YouthLink-PPL project.
Those involved with the workings of Hennepin County have also done much to support YouthLink’s work. Our partnership with the county goes back to the start of the agency more than 40 years ago. The commitment and dedication of the Hennepin County Board to ending homelessness has had significant impact on our work in finding solutions for young people experiencing homeless. In 2010, the Hennepin County Board provided financial support for YouthLink to become the host site of the Youth Opportunity Center. Board Chair Jan Callison, along with other key board members, have encouraged YouthLink and county staff to work together to find options for supporting the new YouthLink-PPL housing project. Our partnership with Hennepin County is a key to our progress.
I’d want others to know that any investment made is an investment in the future. These young people are the next community leaders and it’s worth the investment for our communities. The cost of making a difference with these youth is doable. It’s not a cost that is exorbitant and with just a small investment, the return is huge. A recent break-even analysis completed by Dr. Steven Foldes studied the economic burden of youth homelessness in Minnesota, focusing on the short- and long-term costs to taxpayers and society. The study examined comprehensive costs of more than 1,400 16-to-24 year olds who were homeless or at risk of becoming homeless that visited YouthLink in 2011. The study found that all annual and support costs for the entire group can be covered if 89 youth (only 6.1% of the total young people in the study) were to earn enough so that they no longer need any public support, beginning at age 20. (Information on the dollar cost of homelessness can be found here: http://www.youthlinkmn.org/the-cost-of-homelessness/.)
One thing public officials and others can do to help is actually visit YouthLink to learn more about the young people we serve. But talking about the issue and not ignoring it can do the most help. Politicians can help by allowing youth service providers and the youth themselves to testify about the work being done; they can help by letting us bring legislation to them that they’ll accept; and letting us expand the legislation that we currently have. I really do want to thank the legislature for expanding funding for the runaway and homeless youth act, but there is still more to do, particularly in transformative services in programming and housing that we have that is making a difference and changing the lives of youth.
Individuals, community and business groups are all welcome to learn more about the young people we serve by visiting us at YouthLink, volunteering time to help in one of the many areas of need, or sleeping out at our annual Night of Hope Sleep Out. One example of making a difference is the support being provided by the Downtown Minneapolis Neighborhood Association (DMNA) to YouthLink. Starting in mid-2017, the new housing project will begin to ramp up by composing a team of navigators and coaches who will guide the residents toward their aspirations. Provided through a generous gift from the DMNA, this also means we will have additional peer outreach and staff outreach workers ready to go when the youth are ready to enter their new homes in Spring 2018.
Claudia can be reached at email@example.com