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Where are the homeless people to go when a tent on the sidewalk is too much to ask? by Ann Treacy
November 13, 2018, 11:26 pm
Filed under: St Paul

There are two big homeless encampments in Minneapolis and St Paul and plenty of mini or solo encampments. You can find homeless people on public transportation at all hours of the night. It’s an epidemic and a sad testament to our sense of community and fairness that youth, women and men are all out sleeping outside with one eye open in temperatures way below freezing. (It was 9 degrees this morning!)

It’s crazy! And today (Tuesday) at noon I saw something even crazier. I saw six or more police and city workers hand eviction notices to people sleeping in tents in St Paul. They are expected to leave by Thursday at 10am. Apparently a new cold-weather shelter has opened with

50 Winter Safe Space beds opened Nov 1, operating from 10pm-9am, 14 will be added Thursday, 5 will be for street outreach referrals, the rest for law enforcement referrals.

The video is rough but you can get the gist below.

The encampment in St Paul is just west of 35E as it passes United Hospital, in the shadow of the St Paul Cathedral. There’s a strip of land behind the Summit mansions that includes a sidewalk and wooded areas. Many workout nuts know the steep staircase that runs from the James J Hill House to the encampment. It’s not a well-traveled area, except during Crashed Ice.

There were 30 tents there today, which seems about average for the location. (And presumably sleep way more than the newly available 5 beds on the offer!)

According to the eviction notice, the police can drive people to a shelter on Thursday, but most shelters are not open at 10 am. My expectation is that on Thursday people will be moved but will return later that day, as I have seen happen in the past. Because there is no space at the inn! There is nowhere to go.

We spoke to one gentleman staying in a tent, wearing a short sleeved shirt as I stood shivering in two jackets. His question – where would be a better place for people to go?

The St Paul camp is contained with a fence and highway on one side, and a fence and hill on the other. He suggested the City charge dollar a day to cover the cost of clean-up and a port-a-potty. He insisted he was OK here. Although he wouldn’t say no to a zero degree sleeping bag. He had a tent that was insulated at least from the ground and a heater he turned on sparingly.

Shelter isn’t even on his shortlist. He knows the cards he has been dealt and he is doing the best he can. He thought maybe the Department of Transportation owned the land and therefore might be out of jurisdiction of the St Paul Police. In fact it sounded like he might be looking at up today to see what to do about that. A group of people experienced in street outreach, including my friend Monica Nilsson, discussed the options for people, trains or outside in another St Paul neighborhood.

Lots of people are living at the encampment. I see ingenuity, compassion and community at the encampments. I see good choices, bad choices, no choices.

In 1991, Wilder estimate that there were 3,500 homeless people; in 2015 that number was 15,109, which was actually down slightly since the last count in 2012. I know about the Wilder estimates because I have been one of the counters. I volunteered in 2012 and 2015 to interview people who were homeless for their “single night out” report that happens every three years. I have always done a late night shift, interviewing people from 10 pm to 1 am at the bus terminal at the Mall of America. The police at the MOA told me that the numbers of people they see has never been higher. I’m not looking forward to seeing the numbers.

I wish we could focus more ingenuity, compassion and community from the outside encampment to create better solutions for people staying there. We have been dealt better cards, we should be able to do better by our neighbors.

Because several people have asked me what to do to help – I’m including a link to a recent Facebook post from Monica https://www.facebook.com/groups/754392541578897/permalink/755715954779889/

11 Comments so far
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The question remains why haven’t 5 families gone inside where there are warm beds available? It would be 5 less cold people in a tent (not clear if the shelter could house 5 families or individuals, sorry.

Comment by Gina

Sadly – individuals, not families.

Some people do go inside. I’m sure some from the camp have gone inside. Beds do not go unused in the shelters. Each bed is a good thing. We just need so many more.

There are people who choose not to go inside based on their needs. Couples want to stay together. People have pets. And there are mental health and addiction issues. There are some places that will take couples (and families), pets and/or not ask questions about sobriety. But not all.

Comment by Ann Treacy

Thanks, Ann. We are very good at waxing self-righteous at the way the homeless and poor are treated elsewhere. But what about here? Where is our civic anger? Our resolve not to accept this shameless activity?

Comment by Richard Broderick

The hope is that the attention rustles up some civic anger. It is unacceptable – but maybe in some way the evictions are an event around which to rally. Otherwise these people have been living here fairly under the radar all summer.

Comment by Ann Treacy

Does anyone have statistics available? How many individuals are in the camps? How many adults? How many children? How many need chem dep help? How many need medical care? It would be so helpful to have this information in order to put together a realistic long term plan. ~PEACE~

Comment by Gina Maylone

Gina – those are good questions and I will ask around. I’ve heard “more than 200” for the camp in Mpls. St Paul has fewer – maybe 50-75 if I had to guess. I have only seen adults – single and coupled in St Paul; I’ve seen families and youth in Mpls. Of course that’s anecdotal. Part of the difficulty is the transient nature of the crowd.

Comment by Ann Treacy

Here’s more info from Monica:
There are a variety of place with statistics available: Wilder Research, Hennepin County or Ramsey County Office to End Homelessness, People Inc or St. Stephen’s Human Services street outreach teams. There are also multiple camps in each city. With regard to the biggest in each: Mpls has up to 150 people, St Paul has up to 40 people. Those numbers were 200+ and 100 a few months ago. There are no children at either camp. As far as how many need healthcare for untreated trauma or mental illness and complimentary chemical dependency, the number is typically 40% of homeless adults. There are a few groups gathered to make long-term plans: Outside In in St. Paul and Unsheltered people design team under the state office to end homelessness. There is a short term plan to open a 120 bed shelter in Mpls for that camp by Jan 1 perhaps. There will be 50 winter beds opened in Mpls, similar to the 64 winter beds that have already opened in St. Paul, shortly. It’s estimated that there are 200 people sheltering on the light rail trains at night, 200+ outside in St. Paul and 500+ outside in Minneapolis. Thank you for your concern. Monica Nilsson

Comment by Ann Treacy

My initial inquiry was in regards to the tent cities as they are the ones in the spotlight and being discussed most actively.

“There are no children at either camp”? There are news stories about the poor children at the tent city, playing around dirty needles, and donations needed of stuffed animals etc.

Where were these people before the tent city?

I read recently that there are over 15,000 homeless people living in the streets in the Twin Cities. That’s a lot of beds we need to come up with.

Thank you for the conversation and enlightenment. ~PEACE~

Comment by Gina Maylone

I suspect that 15,000 number comes from the most recent Wilder report (2012). And I think that’s for Minnesota BUT the bulk of that number would be in the TCs. I volunteered with the most recent report (a month ago?) and the police out that night mentioned (again anecdotally) that the numbers of people experiencing homelessness are growing.

I know I saw children at the Mpls camp this summer. I haven’t been over there since winter hit. This summer many adults said they would stay for the cold but not kids. So I spoke to a grandma who said her daughter and grandkids would find a place once it got cold.

Where else might people be? The trains and buses. They are warm there but get harassed. Or they are otherwise sleeping outdoors – under a bridge or on a bench. Some might have places they can stay occasionally – like a family member. But the family member’s housing maybe as precarious. Others may find space at a shelter and some are on lists for more permanent housing – but as you point out the demand far outpaces the supply.

Comment by Ann Treacy

I am an RN working with homeless people in St Paul. The folks at this camp are my patients, and I know them by name. They have daily contact with medical and social service providers who visit the camp and are trying to house them. There are not enough shelter beds, and there is not enough affordable housing. That said, these people have many barriers to stable housing, most notably addiction and serious mental illness. It’s a very hard problem to solve, and a lot of people are working hard to help.

Comment by Mira

Mira – Thank you for your work. So many people are doing so much good work. As you say, it’s a capacity issue. The need just outpaces the supply.

Comment by Ann Treacy

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