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Casper woman perseveres to open place for homeless teens
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Casper woman perseveres to open place for homeless teens

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Bookcases are balanced atop mismatched couches. A dining room table has been flipped on its face. A KitchenAid and a tabletop juicer wait patiently to demonstrate their use.

It’s been three years like this, in a dusty little storage unit on the far west side of town. A whole life, a whole home, shut up behind an anonymous orange door, one in a row of dozens.

But the bed frames and the toiletries and the stacks of boxes are moving soon into a brightly colored building on the corner of McKinley and B streets. Here, they will be party to Thanksgiving dinners and birthday celebrations, joy and love and all the things Miamie Sleep hopes this home will become for its inhabitants. It’s right in the name.

Mimi’s House.

“It sounds like you’re going to grandma’s, it doesn’t sound homeless,” Sleep said.

After three years of learning and struggling, Sleep is right on the edge of those hopes. Mimi’s House, a home for homeless girls in Natrona County, is about to open in North Casper.

The home will house 16- to 19-year-old girls. Sleep said they will work with the school district to vet and place girls into beds in the house. She hopes to eventually host eight girls, but for at least the first year or two the home will be occupied by only two. That will give the entire Mimi’s House team an opportunity to learn the ropes, Sleep explained.

Sleep is currently looking for a “house mom” who would live in the house and serve as a kind of guardian and coach. That’s the other part of it for Sleep. Mimi’s House residents have to either be in school or obtaining their GED.

“Part of the job description for the house mom is to help guide these kids onto something,” Sleep said.

The house mom will also be responsible for going to school events, plays and basketball games.

“It’s going to have the mom who’s going to be going to back-to-school nights with them or their doctor’s appointments,” Chastidy Greenwood-Fox, Mimi’s House executive director added.

Sleep said she has plans to eventually expand to a second house for boys, but by starting with just girls, Sleep and Greenwood-Fox can gain some experience first.

Still, the effort to create this space hasn’t been without its struggles.

***

It was a friend who inspired the idea for Mimi’s House. He had been advocating for unaccompanied minors, kids without a home and who are on their own. Across the country, the numbers are staggering. Data suggests 11 percent of unsheltered homeless in the U.S. on any given night are homeless kids without any family. In the Natrona County School District alone, there are about 40 students in such a position, according to district data.

The numbers shocked Sleep. So she went to work. She started studying, gathering data, applying for grants, visiting with lawmakers. She had decided she was going to open a shelter for homeless youth.

“I can’t imagine as an adult being homeless, let alone being 16. Nobody knows what they’re doing at 16.” Sleep said. “I told my husband about it, and he thought I was crazy.”

But starting a shelter from scratch was more work than Sleep anticipated. She was working a 40-hour-week day job, mothering two stepsons and a grandson and trying to be a good wife. She needed help, so she called Greenwood-Fox, a friend she had met through work.

“She hands me this book and all her notes that’s this thick,” Greenwood-Fox remembers, raising her hand into a tall “C.”

The pair have been lobbying and fundraising together since. They’ve taken grant-writing classes and attended public speaking seminars. They’ve spent countless hours with other heads of area nonprofits. They’ve spoken to lawmakers and sheriff’s deputies.

But about a year into their efforts, Sleep got sick. Doctors found a benign tumor on her pituitary gland, which regulates the body’s hormones. The year before, in 2016, she’d had her gallbladder removed, and by the end of 2017, she’d need a hysterectomy as well.

Greenwood-Fox remembers a few quiet moments with Sleep, amid the roughness of that year.

“There’s been times she’s asked, ‘Chastidy, is this a stupid idea?’” her friend recalled. “But she never stopped.”

That resilience has been consistent, Greenwood-Fox said. But after three years, success was still elusive. People were donating beds and bookcases. Businesses were sponsoring fundraisers for their benefit.

But they still didn’t have a house.

The problem, Greenwood-Fox explained, was that Mimi’s House as an organization was so new, it had no track record and no collateral. Banks weren’t willing to back a loan, which meant they couldn’t get a mortgage and couldn’t purchase the house outright.

But about two weeks ago, Greenwood-Fox got good news from First Interstate Bank. They’d been approved for a loan. Finally, they were getting a home.

***

Sleep and Greenwood-Fox have raised money for most of the house’s furniture already. They have three different storage units across the city, plus whatever they could fit in their own basements and backyard sheds.

“I think our biggest hurdle now is the community, is getting them to trust what we’re doing and what we’re all about and getting the awareness out to our community about our youth homelessness,” Greenwood-Fox said.

They’re hoping to build that support by letting the community invest in the work.

So far a library, a garden and gardening classes have been donated, each bed in the house has a sponsor and the pair are auctioning off other parts of the house as well. The bathroom, the dining room table, the front door.

Sleep said they’re expecting to have a grand opening ceremony before Christmas, and hopefully give two girls a home before New Year’s.

Right now, the structure still bears a plaque reading “McKinley House.” It had been male transitional housing, owned by the Self Help Center. Its teal paint is peeling. The front awning is stained a bit. But it has plenty of rooms, a big open space for a living area and a dining table. There’s a roof. Four walls. A pillow, a blanket. And soon, a hug before bed.

Follow local government reporter Morgan Hughes on Twitter @morganhwrites

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Local Government Reporter

Morgan Hughes primarily covers local government. After growing up in rural Wisconsin, she graduated from Marquette University in 2018. She moved to Wyoming shortly after and covered education in Cheyenne before joining the Star-Tribune in May 2019.

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