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Governor Walz joins us on the biannual survey of homelessness by Ann Treacy
January 23, 2020, 11:27 pm
Filed under: Minneapolis

Twice a year Minnesota conducts a biannual point-in-time (PIT) counts (surveys) of people experiencing homelessness. Last year, I helped administer surveys with my friend Monica Nilsson. This year there was a special guest– Governor Walz. (Careful readers will remember that I spent some time touring shelters and under a bridge with Monica, the Governor and Lieutenant Governor last summer.)

Apparently when he heard about the survey, he wanted to make sure it was on his calendar. People spread out around the state to do surveys; we were stationed at the transit center at the Mall of America.

There was no press. No one to impress except people experiencing homelessness and a bunch of us volunteers. So when he told one gentleman that, “There are a lot of people who care” it felt like it meant something.

I saw him talk to about five people. He asks good questions. He listens. He gives them full attention. He blends in. And he’s the one (or part of the team of people) who found funding for shelters at the end of 2019. In fact, Monica is involved with shelters that are getting funding. (More on that later I’m sure.)

What impresses me is down playing the photo op, (Although god love him, the Governor is happy to pose with all of us!) the critical listening first and acting later.

The Governor gets some interesting answers and advice. A gentleman in a wheelchair explains that yes, he would be interested in an accessible shelter *if* it were a smaller shelter. A younger man who is bouncing around talking to lots of people in the transit center, says if he had money, he’d open a coed shelter. (He was delighted to hear that such places already exist.) Another women, who is well spoken and admits that she has trouble getting a job because of some felonies suggests that maybe we could repurpose existing spaces for shelter, such as the US Bank Stadium. So critical listening is important; like any topic – everyone is an expert. And expert of not, these are the people on the frontlines.

It was fun and heartening to have the Governor there. I’m sure he’ll read the results of the surveys but being there is so much more meaningful to him and certainly to the people he visited.

Because I was helping in other ways, I only surveyed one gentleman this year. He has been homeless for more than two years; he was 56 years old and this is his first time being homeless. He works part time with no mental (or other) illnesses, no record and no addictions. Very friendly. Ten minutes after talking to me, he settled in to read his Bible.

Just as the Mall of America is a coup for me doing the surveys, it’s also a more attractive place to stay if you’re stuck for a place. There’s a bathroom. It’s well lit (tough for sleeping but good for safety) and it’s warmer than the outside. There was a presence of homeless folks all night until they were shuffled to Metro Transit when the center closed at 2am. There was one woman loudly evangelizing a mantra, “The homeless win the lottery and they won’t give us the money.” She was alluding to public funding and donations for the victims of the Drake Hotel and apparently thought there were millions of dollars made available but kept from the victims. It’s an example of grassroots fake news.

And on a side note – I did talk to Governor Walz a bit about broadband because the day before I sat five feet from him and livestreamed a press conference where he announced the recipients of the 2019 MN Broadband grants. He told me that he thinks we have a good chance of getting $30 million this year (to add to the $20 million already in the budget) for broadband grants and seemed delighted to be able to say – “broadband now, we’re winning that one!”

Now if only I could think of some ways that broadband could help with homelessness – like job training for better employment and access to online opportunities, remote access to healthcare to make aging in place affordable and possible, remote access to mental health resources to keep people off the streets…


1 Comment so far
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Timely article given the rise of homelessness. Kudos, Ann, for all you contribute to our community. And Kudos to Gov. Walz for his work and open-hearted concern for people with little or no resources who face tremendous odds just being seen by the world at large.

Comment by womanlake




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