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Giving the gift of transportation, preparing for a job interview, finding stable housing, providing a safe place to sleep, accessing health insurance and health care. These are just a few of the ways New Pathways helps homeless families find their way back to success.

New Pathways, based in Cambridge, serves the counties of Isanti, Chisago, Mille Laces, Kanabec and Pine and celebrated 20 years of operation in September. Its mission is to build a stronger community by providing shelter and support services to families with children experiencing homelessness. Since opening in 2000, its programs have served 1,983 families, including 1,988 children.

New Pathways Path to Home Shelter program provides all basic needs (safe shelter, meals, access to showers and laundry) while families work with professional staff to resolve their housing crisis. New Pathways provides the day shelter and support services while area churches provide the night shelter, meals and hospitality. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the families are now staying in a local hotel, with five families currently enrolled in the Path to Home Shelter program. Its costs New Pathways $450 per week, per family, to stay in the motel.

But like with most nonprofit organizations, the COVID-19 pandemic has taken its toll on New Pathways, and it has been unable to hold any in-person fundraisers since 2019. So the upcoming Spring It Forward campaign, running from May 1-31, is more important than ever before for the organization. Those wishing to donate can visit www.givemn.org/story/5m14rf to make a donation. The Shalom Thrift Store will match all donations given in May, up to $5,000. All proceeds from the Spring It Forward campaign will go toward the Path to Home Shelter program, with a goal of raising $20,000.

“We believe every child deserves a safe place to sleep and a home of their own, that all families should to be together and live with dignity,” New Pathways Executive Director Mary Westlund said. “You would be surprised to know how little it costs to invest in a family and help them get back on their feet. Thanks to our wonderful donors, families that come to us with just the clothes on their back regain their independence in just a few months. Will you give a family a second chance?”

Westlund said most people served in the shelter program are children, with a majority of them under the age of 12.

“A single parent received a donated car from us. The gift of transportation is life changing,” Westlund said. “This single parent will now be able to get to and from work without having to rely on others, to medical appointments and grocery shopping with ease. It really opens up opportunities for work and their next home.”

New Pathways also offers a second program, a supportive housing program, that helps long-term homeless families achieve housing stability. Families live in one of their designated townhomes while they work closely with a licensed social worker on goals and stability. They have 11 families enrolled in this program.

“One single parent started work on her second day in the program,” Westlund said. “She saved enough money to buy a car, which allowed her to work more. Within a month, she was able to save enough money to move into her own home again with her child.”

Other recent ways New Pathways staff has helped families include getting a child with special needs connected to area resources to help them get on track with their development and prepared to start school. Staff also recently helped a parent get ready for a job interview by practicing questions and giving pointers, and the parent ended up getting the job. Staff will also help families with resumes and getting interview-appropriate clothing.

“Helping a family access health insurance and health care is another way we can help; getting necessary surgery is one example,” Westlund said. “If you don’t have a safe place to stay, you don’t have a place to recover. Being at New Pathways has given families, including children, a safe place to recover from necessary surgery. We offer more than just a shelter and housing. We help where it is needed and ultimately help families find their way home.”

Westlund said she hopes New Pathways will be able to start partnering again with area churches in early 2022 for the Path to Home Shelter program, where the families will again stay at local churches instead of the hotel.

“Thanks to our generous community and the special funding through the state of Minnesota, we’re still here, because it has been a rough over a year, and we’re still using the hotel model, so our families are still being housed in single spaced sheltering at the hotel,” Westlund said. “We are one prime example of the special COVID money that came from the state. If that did not come, we would not have been able to keep our shelter open. We would not be here without our community, our donors and the state of Minnesota. So we are just so very thankful.”

Westlund said the pandemic added an additional stress on its families.

“Families who are homeless are vulnerable anyway, but add a pandemic onto it and it’s life threatening. With the pandemic it’s just not really safe for anyone to be bouncing around from place to place or living in their vehicle and not being able to wash their hands,” Westlund said. “We are unbelievably grateful we are still here, we’re growing strong, we have a plan for the next year and our community really stepped up and helped fill the gaps left by canceling our fundraisers.”

The Spring It Forward campaign is the first fundraiser of the year for New Pathways. Westlund said New Pathways is planning to bring back its Troutlily Fest fundraiser this May to be held at the historical Erickson Farmstead, just south of Isanti.

For more information on New Pathways, visit newpathwaysmn.com, find them on Facebook, or call 763-691-0121.

Comments from New Pathways clients

“New Pathways kept my family together during a very difficult time. My husband has the same job he got while in the program and now we have been in our place for over three years.”

-Kayla, New Pathways graduate and mom of a toddler

“After I was laid off from my really good job, it was the scariest time. My son and I stayed in my truck during the coldest time of the winter. It was miserable. Thankfully we found New Pathways, with their help I started working again and we moved into our new home. I got the support that everybody deserves and needs.”

-New Pathways graduate, single mom with son successfully placed in housing

“It has been a journey. And I know I would never be here. I would never be doing the things I am doing right now if it wasn’t for New Pathways for sure. Going to a homeless shelter helped save my children’s lives.”

-Single mom of three, over a year after graduating from the New Pathways Program

“The first thing that I thought when I knew that we could enter New Pathways was: ‘Thank God, now we have a safe place to go. We don’t need to sleep in the car again.’”

-Patty, single mom of a teen and a New Pathways graduate

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