After 25 years serving homeless youth, Face to Face Counseling seeks mental health professionals, new funding partners
Saint Paul Pioneer Press - 8/15/2019
Aug. 15--Kids as young as 11 and young people as old as 24 walk in the doors of Face to Face Health Counseling for a medical check-up, a meeting with a mental health counselor, or sometimes just a sandwich.
At the downtown St. Paul SafeZone drop-in center, some who have nowhere else to go lounge in a common area, sip a soda, try on donated clothing or use the showers. Others gravitate to a small recording arts studio that was launched last year with funding from the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council.
But it's tough to grow services at a time of heavy demand and decreasing foundation support, including the recent loss of nearly $300,000 in United Way funding.
"Our numbers have increased dramatically this summer," said executive director Hanna Getachew-Kreusser. More than 125 young people who are homeless or in danger of becoming homeless walk through her doors each day.
Face to Face serves 3,000 clients each year at two St. Paul locations -- 130 East Seventh St. and 1165 Arcade St. -- and it's constantly short-staffed. If someone is willing to volunteer time making sandwiches, they could probably use the help. Donor drives are great. Housing counselors are put to good use.
But one need that's barely being met is the demand for volunteer mental health counselors who can work with transient and homeless youth, many of whom are aging out of the foster care system.
"The very nature of homelessness is traumatizing, and when you look at our young people's lives, there's a history of complex trauma," Getachew-Kreusser said.
On Thursday, Face to Face will celebrate its 25th anniversary as an official state and Ramsey County service partner.
The nonprofit, which is 47 years old, offers everything from housing counseling to clinical care for young people, and Ramsey County refers many youth needing mental health counseling to Face to Face for one-on-one services.
The office of Gov. Tim Walz has officially proclaimed Thursday to be Face to Face Day in the state of Minnesota, and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan is scheduled to deliver remarks during the event.
"The work they're providing, especially in their downtown youth homeless shelter, is desperately needed in this community," said Ramsey County Board Chair Jim McDonough.
The celebration will be held from 1 to 5 p.m. at the 1165 Arcade St. location, but it comes at a time of growing budget concerns for Face to Face and other county partners. Family Place, a downtown St. Paul service provider that partners with the county to provide day services to homeless families, recently announced that it had let go half of its staff and could close its doors due to a funding crisis.
Face to Face is "doing great work in our community, and funding is becoming a real challenge here, especially for our nonprofit partners as major donors are realigning their priorities," McDonough said. "It's having an impact in our community, and I'm not sure where this ends up with Face to Face. ... The county is a partner with these organizations, but we can't take over these organizations. It's too costly."
LOSING UNITED WAY FUNDING
For housing counseling and other services to succeed, often mental health support is crucial, Getachew-Kreusser said.
"Some of our young people have come out of the foster care system or they've intersected with the corrections system," she said. "Although we're not described as diversion, really our work is a diversion from other systems so we're engaging them on their strengths, rather than on the deficits in their lives."
That's not always easy to do, and given the changing landscape of philanthropy and grant funding, it's getting harder.
"We need to get to know them ... and that makes it challenging," Getachew-Kreusser said. "We don't always have the resources to do that. We are short-staffed most of the time, and it becomes difficult to offer that individual attention. We need more staff, and trained staff."
The nonprofit operates on a $3.9 million annual budget that derives 43 percent of its funding from state and county grants and roughly 57 percent from foundations.
It's facing an uptick in demand for youth services at a difficult budgetary time. Face to Face lost $285,000 in annual grant funding from the United Way this year following a refocusing of the charitable organization's widespread giving.
"Many others are in the same boat," Getachew-Kreusser said. "When that money is not there, it's a big hole. That's our challenge for the next few years -- to beef up our funding. We're doing a strategic plan to really diversify our revenue sources and increase our individual donor base, reach out to as many corporations and businesses as we can, and also foundations. Those partnerships are really key for us."
Those partnerships include groups like the Pohlad Foundation, Bremer Foundation, and corporate donors such as 3M and Securian.
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