Duluth’s Life House and the Technology Makeover Challenge Results

By Dan Moshe

The Life House in Duluth, Minnesota, has been helping youth get off the streets and into housing, education, and employment since 1991.  After being awarded Tech Guru’s first Technology Makeover Challenge, the nonprofit has discovered how technology can help the organization achieve its mission more efficiently than ever.

life house

There is a safe place for at-risk and homeless youth in Duluth, Minnesota.  Life House extends basic and long-term assistance to youth in need, and the work they do made them a perfect candidate for Minneapolis managed IT services provider Tech Guru.  After selecting Life House as the winner for the Technology Makeover Challenge, it was awarded a tech overhaul and one year of maintenance, worth $25,000, giving the organization the cutting-edge tools it needed to help its youth navigate the path to adulthood.  “Tech Guru has done more in the last four weeks than we can ever thank them for,” says Shannon Hoffman, development director at Life House.

Finding Life House

Youth typically get to Life House via word of mouth.  Outreach programs target kids on the bus, at the mall, and on sidewalks.  Youth are offered pocket guides about services and receive water and snacks.

One part of Life House, the Youth Center, serves to meet immediate and basic needs of young people in the community.  “When they get here, the youth are not in a position to reunite with their families,” says Shannon.  “Often, they are fleeing abuse, neglect, or foster care.”  Of 600 youth served in 2014, 30% were homeless or couch-hopping.  The rest were at-risk, living at home or with relatives.  20% of the population (including males and females) are parenting or are expectant parents.

The first area of priority is to stabilize the youth.  All the kids have faced some kind of trauma, and at the Youth Center they can begin to take care of themselves with items from the Basic Needs Room.  From 3-7pm they will find non-perishable food, toothbrushes, razors, diapers, toddler clothes, and other hygiene products.

Stabilization also includes Life House’s Mental Health and Wellness Program, consisting of a licensed clinical social worker.  The youth don’t have to face the roadblocks they would encounter when trying to find mental health support in the outside world – there’s no wait, no charge, and no insurance needed.  It’s a comprehensive program and includes a spiritual component.

Life House is pleased to have doubled the program in the last year to include a wellness case manager with a background in substance abuse.  Now when a kid comes for help it can feel as though they are performing wellness triage, because the needs could be as varied as learning how to nurse a baby, acquiring WIC subsidies, or one-one-one social work.

Finding a Home

Life House strives to get homeless and at-risk youth off the streets and into housing.  They currently have 20 fully-furnished efficiency and one-bedroom apartments throughout Duluth.  Not only do the apartments have towels and dishes, but also all the support the youth will need while working to succeed while they are there.  The average stay in transitional housing is 13 months, but youth can stay there up to 2 years, and in long-term housing longer than that.

“We get the youth on a wait list for section 8 housing, which is typically 10 months,” says Shannon.  “Our hope is to transition them into their own section 8 housing and that they will still want to be involved with our program forever.  Most of the youth who receive section 8 housing still work with us years after they ‘graduate’ from our Housing Program.”

Working Better with Tech

Until now, all of Life House’s information had been stored on the server in the main office.  Case workers need to work from both the main office to access information and from the youth housing to work with the youth.  It was a lot of time being spent going back and forth, and the change will allow the housing case managers to work at the house with the kids.

Once youth are stabilized with housing, “We start to talk about futures,” says Shannon.  “We help kids get their GED, and pay for the exam.  We help them with post-secondary prep, such as taking the ACT.  They also have the option for vocational or technical school.”  Having all the youths’ information in the cloud “is going to make it all so much easier,” says Shannon.  “Now the case workers will be able to go out there with a tablet and help create a work plan or resume.”

“It has been incredibly helpful to have someone to talk us through tech questions every week,” says Shannon.  “It seems like a simple thing, but when you don’t have someone on staff to talk to it makes a big difference to do it this way.  Before we had glitches everywhere.  The Technology Makeover has made us incredibly efficient.”

Life House is located at 102 West First Street, Duluth, Minnesota.  218-722-7431.  You can make a donation HERE.


Dan Moshe helps business owners in the Minneapolis area with all things tech, and is the CEO of the Caring IT company Tech Guru.  He cares about your business as much as you do!