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When you’re homeless, people don’t want to see you – MN Gov & Lt Gov visit homeless sites by Ann Treacy
July 1, 2019, 4:19 pm
Filed under: Minneapolis, St Paul

Saturday night I toured with Governor Tim Walz, Lt Governor Peggy Flanagan, Monica Nilsson and a small entourage to two small homeless shelters and an encampment site to talk to people experiencing homelessness. It was a listening session, a show and tell, a you-can’t-believe-until-you-see tour.

We are more than our worst moment

We toured Simpson Shelter, a small full-service shelter. Guests gushed about the people who work there. One noted that shelter workers came to visit him in jail. I could see plates made up and left out for specific guests who were coming in late. People sleep in bunks. There are 50 men in one room and 25 women in the other, but there was some air-conditioning. It’s close quarters but a few TVs and lots of couches, which I was told are very comfy. Guests had lots of questions and suggestions.

First question – why do they keep building expensive apartments when we need affordable housing? The quick answer, because developers want to make money. Next, people want to know what is being done to improve affordability of life. Someone suggested better training programs. Another pointed out  the circular nature of subsidized affordable living. Housing is cheaper outside of Minneapolis but Section 8 Housing (rental subsidies), requires tenants to stay in Minneapolis. The other problem is if you live too far, you’ll need time and money for public transportation. Then if you’re on any kind of disability, there’s a balance of how much you can work/earn before you lose access to healthcare. There’s an ecosystem to life and if you get sick, lose a job or a car, change your living arrangement, at this level of living you jeopardize everything.

Many of the people at Simpson work. Some have chemical or mental health issues. But based on the questions, many are suffering from repercussions of decisions made decades ago. They can’t get housing, work or other support because they (or a partner) has a criminal record. One man had been in the armed forces, worked many jobs but also had several felonies. Nearly 60 years of living and his felonies defined him. Guests at Simpson want to know about how to expunge old records, restorative justice that lets everyone heal and redemption.

I just want a shower or to make a cup of coffee on my own before work

Next we went to First Covenant, under the shadow of the US Bank Stadium. People sleep on mattresses. There are services but it doesn’t seem as full service at Simpson. But people prefer First Covenant to the bigger shelters that feel like dorms or prisons or army barracks. They are not as secure or personal as the smaller shelter. (Especially unsafe for women, transgender people and anyone with gender fluidity – but that’s a different post!)

People here have many of the same questions. One woman works at the Mall of America. She’s well dressed but unable to find housing she can afford. She talks about how exhausting it is to worry about a bed. And sharing three bathrooms with so many people is a challenge. She just wants to get up in the morning and have a cup of coffee in her own place before going to work. Another gentleman just wants a place where he can get a shower. He can find food and a place to sleep but he works and would love to have a shower. He suggests a 24-hour shower facility. I can see this has (retired National Guard) Tim Walz thinking.

People have ideas and theories here. They think about their needs and the needs of their community. Some people know their stuff (regulations and red tape); some may be confused or ill-informed but they know the lives they lead are tiring and hard. It was here that someone observed – when you’re homeless people don’t want to see you.

There’s a predatory nature to being on the street

Our final stop was under a bridge. A small quiet place with a dozen or so tents. Monica and I have been here before. The residents keep the place clean so they are quietly allowed to stay for now but they are in the shadow of a few larges businesses so who knows what will happen in the future. It is heartbreaking to see how quickly homelessness turns into a normal way of life. Women especially talked about having to learn how to be homeless, learn where sleep, how to start a fire, where to get clean. Living that close to the edge makes you near-sighted. So when asked to think about what to ask from the Governor, the answer is a port-a-potty or for city workers to empty the public trash. So that daily life can be cleaner, safer, more comfortable.

These people are living too far down Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs to think bigger. Someone observed that there’s a predatory nature to being on the street. It’s not pretty but it happens.

There is a women who is sick. She has seven children. Her family can’t take care of her because they are taking care of her children. Any government money she gets she sends to them. Another woman had her children taken away. She can’t tell the story without tears. She admits to drug use and I have no idea whether her kids should be with her, but it’s clear that she needs them.  We spoke to several women at the campsite (there were men around but only women spoke) and they all mentioned some level of drug use. They all also mentioned some level of sexual violence – abuse too – but really rape. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be a woman on the streets.

The story that touched me most was a young woman who looked like someone I would have met in library school – small, blond and dark rim glasses. She was well spoken and very approachable. Her story was tough. She said she was born into poverty. She grew up on the streets. Her mother was a hustler and she had been trafficked as s girl. She told us she was an addict and Monica was quick to point out that while she may be addicted, she was more than an addict. She had been through very tough times. She did say that sometimes the pain was so bad, the high couldn’t reach it. Meth was not strong enough to take her away from her past – a past she was born into.

Post tour I recognized that we had been through a surreal (yet too real) version of Dante’s Inferno. Each stop bleaker than the last. Or seen in reverse order it’s a ascent from hell, the more attention a person experiencing homelessness gets, the more hopeful they become. They go from asking for the most basic of support – a toilet, to dignity – a shower, to help for the future – training for jobs.

We heard from three people who had formerly been homeless and now are not. For one the key was getting sick and tired of being sick and tired and using the resources around him on the day he was ready. For another, it was having a specific outreach worker (Monica) reach out to him on the right day. A common denominator for anyone experiencing  success in moving away from homelessness was a personal connection. Just as we learned people had to learn how to be homeless – and that is likely a one-on-one lesson, people need support learning not to be homeless. That means finding them a safe place. Then it means having someone confirm or deny “rules” you hear on the street – like you can’t get services without an ID and if your ID is stolen, it’s very difficult to replace. (Several people seemed to think that a lost ID was a stopper.) It means having people around you who are making the same healthy decisions you want to make. It means giving people room to progress and opportunity to go from needing support to being support.



The rain stops for our NYC harbor cruise by Ann Treacy
June 14, 2019, 8:25 pm
Filed under: New York

The last day of the big ICF conference it rained. But that’s OK – by then folks knew us and we were absolutely OK walking around like drowned rats. The best news is that the rain stopped just in time for the conference harbor cruise dinner and the unveiling of the ICF winner. Funny enough the rain started again once we got back to the pier.

It was a fantastic end to a great conference and trip!



Sleeping No More in NYC by Ann Treacy
June 14, 2019, 8:14 pm
Filed under: New York

The most interesting (aka strangest) thing we did in NYC was go to Sleep No More, a fully immersive art thing. It’s set in the McKittrick hotel. So it’s part arty haunted house. You have to wear a mask – so makes you feel like you’re in Eyes Wide Shut. And we were immediately separated, which left us to walk the halls alone.

I say walk, but Mary was singled and escorted down the hall in an old wheelchair. I walked up to the third floor. It’s very dark but arty. You walk from room to room to maze to graveyard. My favorite room artistically was the empty vintage baby cradle with decapitated dolls hanging from the ceiling like birds flocking.

There are 21 performers in the hotel. They will interact with you; you cannot instigate an interaction – or I guess you can’t touch them. Each has their own story. I feel like I maybe saw 3 of 50 stories or vignettes. Many of the spaces are empty but you can open drawers or read notes. In the bar there is a well-choreographed bar fight. The story that caught my attention was the asylum nurse. She meticulously cut words out of an old book (cleanliness/germs). Then she danced in the beds, in the bath in the dilapidated walls. The dance was amazing and she was so intriguing.

Kevin and Mary saw their own stories. We intersected a few times but briefly because it is really a singular journey. It’s not scary just eerie and maybe suspenseful. They both saw naked dancing. Not sure if I should feel disappointed or relieved that I didn’t.

We all loved the experience. We were there for two hours and decided that was enough time but agreed we’d all go back at the drop of a hat.

Before Sleep No More, we had super yummy tapas at Mercado Little Spain. After we heard jazz in the Village.

 



Work week in New York – but you can always find time for fun with friends by Ann Treacy
June 14, 2019, 7:00 pm
Filed under: New York, Uncategorized

This week I was lucky enough to be part of a contingency of 10 Minnesotans who headed off to the ICF Summit to talk about broadband and economic development and how smart communities are making their lives better. (You can read all about that on my work blog.)

On our first day we saw everything. We walked about 15 miles mostly around Midtown Manhattan. We started with a quick jaunt to Grand Central Station and then I headed to NY Public Library to get online. (Ironically the library had better access than our conference about broadband.)

There was a Stonewall exhibit at the library to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Stonewall. For younger readers, Stonewall was a series of riots that began June 28, 1969 when members of the GLBTQIA crowd rioted against a police raid. It is debatably the start of expanding equal rights to people regardless of sexual orientation or preference. Sadly we’re still fighting that fight; in the last month I have seen modern renditions of some of these posters…

After lunch some of us felt the pull of the city was maybe a little stronger than the conference. (Just for the afternoon!) We walked everywhere…

Then there was the Champagne reception at the Finnish Consulate. (Yup, that was work.)

We took advantage of Museum Mile festival with free access to the Met, Cooper Hewitt (Smithsonian) and the Jewish Museum.

 

We ended the day with a fancy cocktail at the Plaza.



Three days and three girls in Winnipeg – worth 16 hours of driving! by Ann Treacy
March 27, 2019, 3:57 am
Filed under: Winnipeg

For spring break Aine and I went to Winnipeg to see Kate (at U of Manitoba) and Lily (at U of Winnipeg). The best thing about the visit was to see how nice the girls are to each other – when they’re not fighting about who is wearing whose clothes. And frankly if there were no fighting, I’d be worried.

Lilly invited us to stay at her place. So that was nice. Kate invited Aine to her dorm’s talent show on our last night. So that was nice. Few high school freshman are invited to the college freshman’s dorm for anything. Everyone posed for me under the lights of the Winnipeg Art Gallery, which is my favorite thing to do in Winnipeg – so that was nice too!

We had lots of good food. We met Lily’s boyfriend Sean – who is very easy to fit into the dinner table. Gotta like that in a guy. And he has awesome taste in music (and girls). Lily and I walked around her new, pretty upscale, neighborhood for a couple hours one day. We didn’t see as many murals as we saw in the old neighborhood but we didn’t hear as much yelling either.

We went to see some bands and maybe the worst comic ever at a coffee shop one night. That was fun. Again, few high school freshman get to hang with the big dogs until 11pm seeing bands. And we even went for crepes afterward. Few people older than 14 want crepes after 10pm but we managed it.

We all spent the day today at the Forks – a market of sorts by the River. It’s nice walk around that area – there’s a great view of the Human Rights Museum, St Boniface and the whole downtown. We had different kinds of food and mostly just hung out.

Tomorrow Aine and I will leave at the crack of down – two hours after Lily has started working her shift at the airport. And we’ll look forward to having them home with us for Easter!



Housing is too expensive for many families, they need help to thrive and Minnesota needs thriving families by Ann Treacy
March 14, 2019, 12:18 am
Filed under: St Paul

Today I attended Homeless Day on the Hill. Mostly I attended the press conference because the Committee Session was full, the overflow room was full and even the halls were filled with people watching the session of the Health and Human Services Finance Division. They were talking about HF1043, increasing shelter, services and housing.

The issue is that people can’t live with the MFIP subsidies provided. MFIP subsidy is unemployment insurance for jobs that don’t provide it; its income for children and hasn’t increased since 1986 – $437/month for a parent and child. We heard from one woman (video below) who lives in Duluth on $532 in support a month; she has two children. Her story was that one morning, about a year ago, she woke up with seizures. Now work is an issue. We heard from several people today. The Street Voices for Change folks had a lot of experience understanding how and why people needed help. The Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office had stories of what happened when everyone worked together as happened in St Paul during some of our coldest days.

BUT the video I’ll start with is my friend, homeless advocate, Monica Nilsson. She was interviewed (unprepared, except she’s always prepared) by the media on general questions about homelessness – such as how does homelessness happen and what policies could help.

Very simply, homelessness happens because housing costs more than many people can afford, especially when you factor in the need for first and sometimes last month deposit. There isn’t enough affordable housing to go around – especially for families. Homelessness has increased 40 percent in the last 4 years. And it’s not just an urban issue. It may seem like that, especially after last summer and the homeless encampments in St Paul and Minneapolis but one-third of homeless Minnesotans are in Cities, one-third in suburbs and one-third in rural areas.

Normally I’d just post this on Facebook – but Facebook is broken today. (Which means no livestreaming of meetings, which means loss of remote civic engagement – but that’s another post!) I don’t want to lose the thoughts. And on a personal note, it’s fun when you see your friend be so good at her job.



Surveying the homeless for Hennepin County: 8 million stories in the naked city by Ann Treacy
January 24, 2019, 8:46 pm
Filed under: Minneapolis

Last night I joined about 50 other volunteers to survey people experiencing homeless for the Point in Time count for Hennepin County. I ask a bunch of questions; the answer-er gets $5. It’s less money than for the Wilder Survey, which is done every three years, but there are fewer and easier questions.

Volunteers attended a quick training where I learned that this is HUD-mandated reporting. I think the reporting is important – that which gets measured, gets done. But I’m not sure why volunteers are needed if HUD mandates it. At least three quarters of the people in the room were in the industry. They were outreach workers, shelter workers or maybe the brand new Commissioners (such as Human Services Commissioner Tony Lourey, Jennifer Ho, head Minnesota Housing Finance Agency and a few folks from Met Council). Kudos and thanks to all of them for being there – but imagine if people got paid to administer the surveys.

Imagine if people got paid a living wage to do much of the work that many of us do as volunteers. Don’t get me wrong, I find the work interesting. I don’t mind doing it. But maybe if HUD is going to mandate the reporting, maybe they need to pay for it. And maybe that would help end homelessness for some people.

Back to the surveys … I pulled the cushy job interviewing folks at the train station at the Mall of America. It’s warm there, it’s well lit and there’s a bathroom. Others talked to people on the trains and in outside places. I spoke to a half a dozen people or so. I spoke to one guy in his 30s. He had a Master’s degree. He had been in the Twin Cities just a few months and had a criminal record. I spoke to a girl in her 20s who admitted that maybe she had some issues with drugs or alcohol – but she’s “working on that.” A few folks had been homeless for moths or a year. One was going to sleep outside. (It was 20 degrees and falling.) Most would hang around the trains until the coffee shops opened. Everyone I spoke to was under 50 years of age.

Everyone was pleasant, happy to talk and even happier for an opportunity to make a quick $5. A few wanted to know where to get more help. I had a brochure to share. Most had written off shelters because they seem full before they are even open. We learned that there are 1025 adults, 400-500 families and 75 youth sheltered in Hennepin County – and those beds are full.

My experience is only my experience and I think it you talk to one person experiencing homelessness, you know what it’s like for one person. Everyone’s story is different. But if you want to hear a lot of stories, you listen to my friend Monica, who spoke at the Legislature at 8 am yesterday and then spent her whole night (until 4am or later I’m sure!) doing surveys last night. If there are 8 million stories, she has heard 7 million of them!




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