Q&A: Stipends Support Homeless Youth

By Abigeya Akalewold and María José Plotts

The Minnesota State Legislature nearly tripled the amount of funding for homeless youth services in 2023, and Youthprise is one of the nonprofits who lead the way in advocacy. Kristy Synder, Youthprise policy and system transformation officer, shares how a new stipend program will give homeless youth a monthly payment of support as they try to secure housing and work. Snyder explains how the program works and what it means for Minnesota.

ThreeSixty also interviewed Rep. Heather Keeler and James Lewis from The Link about their work supporting homeless youth.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Kristy Snyder
Kristy Snyder (Courtesy Youthprise)

How does the Homeless Youth Stipend Pilot Program help ensure future success of youth experiencing homelessness?

A lot of people experiencing homelessness do work a lot, but they can’t get over that hump to have enough income to get someone to rent to them. First of all, they would have guaranteed two years of $1,000 a month. That gives landlords other people a line of sight to say they are trustworthy. Secondly, they also get a one-time payment of $4,000 because it is actually quite expensive to be homeless. People who have no experience with the homeless system don’t recognize that people have to pay for their shelter because sometimes they are not allowed to have a bank account, they use check cashing. There are all sorts of financial barriers for them. That one-time payment could help to wipe that those debts free. They could start like get a room or actually rent an apartment and get to some housing stability.

Young people are still going to have to hustle. It’s not enough to just leisurely hang out. I don’t think people want to leisurely hang out. I think they want to get on with their lives. Whether that is like now I can go to school and focus on school. Or, now I can like find it, like take a breath and find a job that actually pays more rather than the one that is right near me. It gives them a little time to re-conceptualize their thinking.

What is your viewpoint on the youth homeless stipend program, and considering how it mostly supports youth?

(Youth) get direct cash, so they can use it in any way they want. That’s important to me. Because in systems that are designed to help, people don’t recognize their autonomy, don’t recognize that they have free will and have great ideas on how to make things happen for them. Sometimes the reason why people are poor, or homeless is because they don’t have money. Right? So, we need to give them money, and that’s what the Homeless Youth Stipend Pilot Program does.

How do homeless youth have different experiences than adults who are homeless?

I think that youth are different than adults. Because the system is not designed for young people, it is designed for older people. If you’re in subsidized housing, you’re not allowed to go to school or work full-time. As a young person, or really any age person, that is demoralizing. Young people are trying to launch their lives. They have the power, energy, the vision, and they need financial support. They could choose to have a bunch of roommates and a house. They could choose to like rent a room from somebody. They’re just in a different life phase. We need to be more creative and support their creativity and partner with them in that way.

María José worked with retired reporters Bill Wareham and Bob Shaw to finish her story. Abigeya worked with retired reporters Bill Wareham and Star Tribune reporter Chloe Johnson to finish her story.  This story was completed at ThreeSixty’s Winter News Team: Capitol Edition in February 2024, where high school journalists covered important legislative issues, impacting Minnesota youth. Read more stories here.