Founded in 1994 by 19-year-old Michelle Basham, Avenues for Homeless Youth (originally known as Project Foundation) set out as a resource for youth ages 16-24 experiencing homelessness in the Twin Cities.
With locations in Brooklyn Park and Minneapolis, Avenues for Homeless Youth—celebrating 25 years in 2019—helps over 300 youth per year thanks to the organization’s transitional living programs, shelter programs and host homes. Youth support specialists, host families and other on-site staff work to provide stable homes for youth while building trust and relationships. In 2018, 78 percent of youth at Avenues’ Minneapolis location exited to stable housing, as did 90 percent at their Brooklyn Park location. Avenues also offers guidance regarding education, life skills, career building, and health and wellness. their emphasis on social justice and community involvement.
Zayed Ahmed, Avenues’ director of programs, has been with the organization for over six years. With an extensive background in psychology, Ahmed came into her role with a specific goal: to emphasize mental wellness in the programs with on-site mental health professionals and referrals. Ahmed says this focus has made Avenues even more transformative, for both the youth and staff.
Besides mental wellness, Avenues counts social justice and community engagement among its core goals—particularly in dealing with those who often don’t see themselves represented during big conversations. The nonprofit demonstrates these priorities through youth-empowerment activities that get them involved with the community.
“We’re constantly reflecting on where we are and what we’re doing—that is the heart of our culture,” Ahmed says. “I’m really proud of how we can show up as our authentic selves and how we get to not be the expert on kids’ lives but really be a part of the facilitation of their journey. [We ask the question,] ‘How do we walk alongside you?’”