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Pathfinders’ Dan Magnuson

Supporting Milwaukee Youth

Oct. 14, 2013
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With an increased number of Milwaukee youth in need of secure housing and supportive services, Pathfinders preventative programming, housing services and ongoing outreach initiatives have made the longstanding nonprofit organization increasingly valuable to its surrounding community. Established in 1970, Pathfinders has expanded to include two group homes, the Hand-In-Hand counseling program, an Emergency Youth Center and Drop-In Center serving runaway and homeless young people and Q-BLOK, a collaborative housing program organized through Pathfinders, the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center and Lad Lake. Intended for young adults who are LGBT-identified, Q-BLOK strives to provide a balanced, multi-pronged approach to providing housing assistance and emotional support to those in need. Pathfinders President and CEO Dan Magnuson further explained the innovative program in a recent interview. 


How did Q-BLOK come about?

Q-BLOK began about five or six years ago when we began thinking about how we could best provide different kinds of supportive services to young people. We looked at similar programs across the country that had been successful and adopted some of their models and strategies...


Such as?

We incorporated mentor families. Mentor families support young people on a volunteer basis and help them transition into adulthood. Our young people don’t live with their mentor families, but the families serve as friends as they move through their lives. We also brought on changes on the housing end of things. We decided to provide what is called scattered-site housing. Young adults have apartments across the city and subsidies over a period of time as they work with our staff to ensure that they remain in a strong position for as long as possible.


Pathfindersmke.org states, “Homeless teens and young adults in Milwaukee face some of the most staggering odds in the country in attaining safe, stable, supportive housing.” What is so challenging about Milwaukee?

Well, Milwaukee is one of the most economically distressed large cities in America. We have very high levels of unemployment among African American males and high levels of child poverty. These issues show up in a lot of different ways, including homelessness. Because of the Great Recession there has been a dramatic rise in homelessness. For instance, almost 4% of Milwaukee Public Schools students are homeless at some point during the course of the school year.


As a society we seem to forget about young people who are couch surfing or being passed around from family member to family member without any real sense of housing security. Is how we define homelessness part of the problem?

I appreciate your question because it points to the diversity of ways people can be homeless throughout their lives. Yes, some young people end up living in abandoned buildings or live outside—that is not uncommon. However, to your point, couch surfing is a common and risky proposition, because [these young people] are isolated, they don’t feel safe, they’re vulnerable and the possibility of exploitation is high. Studies across the country have shown that, of homeless young people under the age of 18, about one third will trade sex for food and shelter. So yes, there are a diverse number of ways in which young people can be homeless and exploited.


To learn more about Pathfinders programs and services, visit pathfindersmke.org or call 414-964-2565.


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