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Once homeless, young adults settle in at new apartment complex in Edina

Dozens of posters, toys and trinkets adorn Anthony Anderson’s new studio apartment in Edina.

Several of the items were given to him during his stay at a Minneapolis shelter. Anderson, now 22, kept track of how long he was homeless: three years and eight months.

"Most of this is just donated stuff given to me," he said. "Whatever a person gives me, I don’t complain, I just take it."

One item does hold special meaning — a necklace with a small cross, hanging from the wall behind his bed.

"That’s the last thing I have from my grandmother," he said. "I always have it hanging above me, just to help me sleep."

Anderson is one of 38 young adults living at 66 West Apartments, a housing complex for young people who have been homeless. Beacon Interfaith Housing Collaborative, the developer, held a grand opening last week for the $11.4 million complex.

Danae Gilbert spoke to patrons during the grand opening celebration for the 66 West Apartments in Edina. “I didn’t have to worry about things anymore as far as being stable,” she said.

It’s the third project of its kind that Beacon has developed and is its first in the suburbs. The nonprofit group opened a similar complex with 44 units in St. Paul last fall.

The young tenants, most of them between ages 18 and 21, have personal yet all-too-similar stories.

They come from dysfunctional families and have slept in shelters and foster homes and on couches; sometimes they had no place to spend the night at all. There are anywhere from 250 to 300 young people like them in the Twin Cities’ west-metro suburbs, according to Beacon.

But 66 West, located near Xerxes Avenue S. and W. 66th Street, is more than just beds. Residents have four full-time employees who guide them through school, work, community relationships and other life skills.

The goal is for tenants to become stable enough to move within a couple of years to different housing, this time on their own terms.

"It really opens up that hope, moving out of survival mode," said Lee Blons, executive director for Beacon. "This is that chance to get that support."

The complex opened its doors in May, more than five years after the concept was first explored by Edina Community Lutheran Church. The church wanted to advocate for affordable, long-term housing for homeless young people until they realized that no such place existed in the west-metro suburbs.

The church partnered with Beacon to develop the project and found support from neighboring congregations. Despite some pushback from businesses and neighbors, the Edina City Council approved the project in 2014.

More than 70 percent of the project’s cost was covered by the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency. Donors now fund 30 of the 39 units, allowing the tenants to pay subsidized rent, Blons said.

Among other changes, residents must adjust to life in one of the metro area’s most upscale suburbs. Sometimes that can feel overwhelming.

"I’m just getting used to living by myself," said Lulu Mohamed, who moved in a day before her 17th birthday. "I’m not a ‘burbs girl."

Hardcover books line the window sill next to her bed. She works at a nearby Chipotle restaurant and hopes to start her senior year this fall at Minneapolis Washburn High School.

Resident: ‘I felt saved’

On Thursday, hundreds gathered for the opening celebration. One by one, small groups took tours of the complex and the single unit still unoccupied.

The building has a community space on the first floor, a gym in the basement and a computer lab. Studio apartments have brand-new appliances and furniture, including a table, a dresser and a bed.

Project developers and elected officials addressed the crowd under a tent outside. So did Danae Gilbert, a 19-year-old who now calls 66 West home.

Gilbert was born in Minneapolis and bounced around the Twin Cities as a child. Her ever-changing commute made it difficult to get to school or work. She applied to 66 West with the help of a youth advocacy center and was the first tenant to get approved.

"I felt saved, in a way," she said. "I didn’t have to worry about things anymore as far as being stable."

She will soon start work at a nursing home as a dietary aide, and she hopes to complete her high school credits. During her speech, she thanked those involved in making 66 West a reality.

"I will no longer have to struggle, and if I did, it’d be a choice," Gilbert told the crowd. "I refuse to make that choice, though, because I know you guys believe in me."

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