Housing Indigenous Youth Helps Heal Intergenerational Trauma
In Minnesota, residents identifying as Native American comprise 2 percent of the state’s population yet represent 22 percent of all homeless youth. Mino Oski Ain Dah Yung, a permanent supportive housing development in St. Paul’s Frogtown neighborhood, opened its doors in November 2019. The Ain Dah Yung Center, a local nonprofit, partnered with Project for Pride in Living to build the facility to prevent homelessness among young people aging out of social service eligibility. Key to the project’s success is its emphasis on culturally responsive service provision, and the Ain Dah Yung Center has already begun to see positive impacts despite the COVID-19 pandemic, which has curtailed many of its planned activities. By providing services in a manner that builds a strong and proud sense of identity, Mino Oski Ain Dah Yung, which means “good new home” in Ojibwe, is disrupting the cycle of inherited trauma through housing.
A Place in the Community
Mino Oski Ain Dah Yung’s distinctive façade, with its mural of bright mountains and a large, welcoming teepee designed by a local indigenous architect, make it a neighborhood landmark. The senses of belonging and identity that the mural represents are reflected in many of the building’s features, including community space for ceremonial practice, a sweat lodge intended for ritual sweats, a garden for growing traditional medicinal plants, and circular gathering spaces on each floor designed for other teachings. Communal kitchens provide opportunities to teach native cooking skills, and activities such as beadwork, drum making, singing, and sewing connect residents to their heritage.
The 4-story building has 42 furnished efficiency apartments, each with its own bathroom and kitchenette. For 32 of the units, households must earn no more than 30 percent of the area median income (AMI), and the remaining units limit resident income to 50 percent of AMI. Rental assistance, funded through four public and private sources, is available to residents. Approximately half of the units have design features that accommodate residents living with mental or physical disabilities. The $13.7 million development cost was financed primarily through low-income housing tax credits.
The Importance of Cultural Identity
Onsite services and programming serve two functions: helping individual residents gain skills for self-sufficiency, as many youth transitional supportive housing programs might do, as well as performing the deeper work of building up a community by fostering pride and identity in its members. Onsite services include educational guidance, family reunification, financial management, job and life skills training, and mental health services. Partner organizations round out the service program and provide benefits assistance and chemical dependency services. Each resident is teamed with a transition coach and case manager.
Angela Gauthier, associate director of the Ain Dah Yung Center, says that the need for those services to be culturally responsive is crucial in achieving equitable service outcomes. She argues that it is more difficult for members of minority communities to access and be effectively helped by systems of care when those systems are designed for communities with different cultural assumptions.
Although culturally competent staff are crucial to the success of onsite programming, as well as street outreach efforts to bring homeless Native youth into systems of care, Deb Foster, executive director of the Ain Dah Yung Center, and Gauthier argue that new, deliberate policies are needed to maximize the effectiveness of culturally based service provision. To put this into practice, the Ain Dah Yung Center successfully advocated for policy changes within the local Continuum of Care program that would allow for culturally responsive referrals to Mino Oski Ain Dah Yung within the established system of housing assessments and coordinated entry. These efforts have led to increased self-identification of eligible youth as having Native heritage and a community at Mino Oski Ain Dah Yung, where 85 percent of residents identify as indigenous.
The Ain Dah Yung Center is demonstrating the need and effectiveness of culturally responsive service provision. Foster and Gauthier argue that its success suggests the needs for policies that promote the broader uptake of this approach to housing vulnerable individuals. Despite the limitations imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Foster reports encouraging stories of young lives transformed and another small step in a long process of community healing.
Affordable Housing Tax Credit Coalition. n.d. “Mino Oski Ain Dah Yung.” Accessed 2 February 2021; Ain Dah Yung Center. n.d. “Mino Oski Grand Opening Celebration.” Accessed 2 February 2021; Ain Dah Yung Center. n.d. “Ain Dah Yung Center.” Accessed 2 February 2021; Joint interview with Deb Foster, executive director, Ain Dah Yung Center, and Angela Gauthier, associate director, Ain Dah Yung Center, 11 January 2021. ×
Ain Dah Yung Center. n.d. “Mino Oski Grand Opening Celebration.” Accessed 2 February 2021; Joint interview with Deb Foster executive director, and Angela Gauthier, associate director, Ain Dah Yung Center, 11 January 2021; Affordable Housing Tax Credit Coalition. n.d. “Mino Oski Ain Dah Yung.” Accessed 2 February 2021. ×
Joint interview with Deb Foster, executive director, and Angela Gauthier, associate director, Ain Dah Yung Center, 11 January 2021; Christine Serlin, 2020. “Cutting-Edge Development Serves Native American Youth in St. Paul,” Affordable Housing Finance, 2 September. Accessed 2 February 2021.×
Joint interview with Deb Foster and Angela Gauthier, 11 January 2021; Indian Child Welfare Act Law Center. n.d. “Understanding The Indian Child Welfare Act.” Accessed 2 February 2021; John R. Vile. 2009. “American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978 as Amended in 1994,” First Amendment Encyclopedia, Middle Tennessee State University. Accessed 2 February 2021.×
Joint interview with Deb Foster and Angela Gauthier, 11 January 2021.×