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MN Homeless Shuffle: Police clear out the St Paul Homeless Encampment by Ann Treacy
November 16, 2018, 3:14 am
Filed under: St Paul

Today the St Paul Police evicted the campers down at the St Paul Encampment. The video below captures moments from a 90 minute visit. I am with homeless advocate Monica Nilsson through most of the video so she is the one you hear talking.

The police came to move people on to new locations. New beds opened up today – 14 beds. There were about 40 people at the camp. The people in the camp are not the only people in the city experiencing homelessness. There will be a lot competition for those beds. So on a practical basis, the police were there to take people to other outdoor locations including the encampment in Minneapolis. (The Minneapolis encampment is better setup with porta-potties, running water and now heated tents.) Or maybe they will end up on the train or a bus all night. A few may get lucky and find a bed.

It’s a big people shuffle.

People pack up their stuff – but not all of it. Some of it isn’t worth taking. Some of it is too hard to carry. It’s difficult to watch people who have so little leave so much behind. Thankfully it wasn’t too cold but it’s November in Minnesota so it wasn’t warm either. It was much colder two days ago when campers got the eviction notices.

Like the end of a super sad parade, staff (from the Department of Transportation) were there to clean up the mess. And doing the encampment version of vacuuming under the feet/tents of slow moving campers.

It’s a crazy situation. When I arrived I saw police on horseback – luckily that was the only time I saw them. Sheesh. There were about a dozen police officers and various other paid city/county/state staff. I heard someone from the City say they have spent hundreds of hours working on the situation. So much money spent planning, talking, dealing with the homeless and this is what they come up with? Seems like there might be a better use of those resources.

This isn’t the first time the camp has been evicted. I’ve seen people setting up their tents the by 3pm after a morning clear out. But this seemed different and they put up No Trespassing signs.

My heart goes out to the people who had to leave. I wish a warm, safe place for all of them. Friends have asked me about how they can help. I defer to my friend Monica and borrow from her advice…

Please call Mayor Melvin Carter and St. Paul City Council members, Ramsey County Commissioner and State Legislators. Ask them what their plan is. Where do they suggest they hide and still be seen for help? Office of Mayor Melvin Carter, 651-266-8510 City Council Phone: 651-266-8560

There are a few places online where you can learn more and/or sign up to help. Advocates for the People of St Paul’s Cathedral Hill Encampment, Walking with a Purpose and Franklin Hiawatha Encampment.



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/



How can we have so many people experiencing homelessness today in St Paul and Minneapolis? by Ann Treacy
October 17, 2018, 11:45 pm
Filed under: St Paul

It is heartbreaking to think that there are people in Minnesota sleeping in tents because they have nowhere else to go. Right now we have two tent cities in the Twin Cities that are big enough to be getting media attention. Last month I wrote about the encampment in Minneapolis. Today I stopped by the encampment in St Paul.

I have walked through the encampment before with Monica, advocate against homelessness. As she has pointed out to me, the encampment is ironically in the shadow of the Cathedral and cross street of Mother Teresa Calcutta Boulevard. I stopped by today to take pictures because we had heard that the police were chasing folks off – to which of course we heard they said – no worry, just arrest us.

When I arrived, people were setting their tents up – again. Last time I was there, I counted 22 tents. Today at 3 pm I saw 5 or 6 that were set up and people were moving in to set up camp.

I was talking to some guys as they set up their tent. Turns out the cops showed up around 8am and told everyone they would be coming back at 10:00 to clear then out. They did return and cleared folks out but again by 3:00 people were setting up again. Like Sisyphus rolling a rock up a hill, only to have it immediately roll back down.

The problem, my new friend told me, was human waste. There is no porta-potty at the encampment. He had places that he went – like a gas station but he didn’t think everyone did that. The encampment is near a wooded area – in what I’ve always called the alley of Summit Avenue, which means just beyond the backyard of some of the nicest houses in the city. Also, he told me, no one was going to be allowed to stay after November 1. Now what they are going to do to prevent people from staying, I don’t know.

So that’s what I know. I’m sharing pictures with permission. It just seems crazy that people have no where else to go, that we can’t find affordable housing, that the city would chase people out just to have them come back. I’ve talked to several people in the area. Some are working. Some are using. Many are on lists to get housing. Some are waiting for the new shelter to open up, others are dubious. Everyone is worried for the winter.

 



Tent City in Minneapolis – a community biding their time for an answer we need to create by Ann Treacy
September 10, 2018, 5:15 am
Filed under: Minneapolis, St Paul

Today I went to visit the tent city on Hiawatha Ave near Cedar Ave, in Minneapolis, where people who are experiencing homelessness have set up tents. There are about 200 people staying there right now. I went with Monica, who is well acquainted with the world of homelessness, after working tirelessly in the community for decades.

I’m not as knowledgeable or experienced. Although we did visit the emerging tent city in St Paul last week.

I am tempted to start by asking what’s wrong with a community that has so many people sleeping outside in tents – or on trains or buses or anywhere but a safe bed?! Where is our humanity? But I’ll hold back and just talk about what I saw.

First thing you notice in a tent city is the sea of tents. There are dozens of them in Minneapolis. Most are setup along side a wall. Some have tarps added above as extra protection. In St Paul, I learned, that on Monday the police “red tag” the tents, which means they have been cited and will be coming down on Wednesday. Most people throw those tags away. But if your tent gets taken away, the police tell you to go to People Incorporated. When you get there, they give you a new tent. This doesn’t happen in Minneapolis.

Many people are sleeping in the tents or just hanging out. There are people of all ages and I noticed a few wheelchairs and canes. Kids are playing around the tents. I saw a tiny baby who couldn’t have been more than two months, I saw toddlers, preteens and a few teens. Kids are playing as kids do. Pretty polite but way more interested in playing with a train than anything else going on.

In Minneapolis, Natives Against Heroin seem to be hosting or managing the campsite. Those are strong terms but they are the best I have. There are two tents set up with logos from Natives Against Heroin – one includes an upside down American flag – an upside down flag being a universal sign of distress. Nearby are tables with food and clothes, which have obviously been dropped off as donations and a large pot cooking up stew. People are generous but the food can be random – a big box of bananas, homemade buns, coleslaw. From what I’ve heard and what little I’ve seen, the people who are most generous are the people closest to poverty line themselves – people who maybe know what it’s like to be hungry.

The stew was cooked by a matriarch-type with donated meat, cans of veg, cooked pasta dropped off in party-size baking tins.

There are kids asking “when is it going to be ready” just like you can hear in every house in town at this time. And once it’s ready they are happy and they know the drill – to line up like it’s a picnic buffet. The only catch with this lovely stone soup, they have bowls but no spoons. So that’s not like every house in town.

I saw one “sink” or a large barrel of water and a make-do wash up area. Mostly the area seems pretty picked up; unfortunately the city garbage cans are overflowing. Although it’s a Sunday – hopefully there’s a pick up tomorrow. No point in setting up garbage cans if the refuse isn’t collected often enough. There are also port-a-potties set up on either end of the campsite. It doesn’t feel like enough infrastructure to keep 200 people safe, clean and healthy.

There is a sense of community. There’s a shared meal or at least shared food available. But then everyone has their own space too – within their tent. Thankfully, I have never experienced homelessness but I have to imagine that having that space where you know you can stay tonight, where you can maybe even keep a few belongings must be a great relief.

There’s no sense of urgency. No one is rushing to get anywhere. Time stands still. Our intent was to be there for 30 minutes; we were there two hours. People are biding their time. Some have been drinking. Sadly a woman died of an overdose earlier this weekend. People try to escape in the ways they can. While others persevere.

The question is what will happen when the snow flies? The mayor says the tents can stay. He doesn’t want to move people to another outside area. We saw police walking their beat through the tent city. They try to be there if they are needed but also don’t want to intrude. They worry about under-reported crime; they worried about safety of the people in the tents. They don’t see an end coming soon. They suspected some people would leave when it gets cold but otherwise not much movement.

We need people outside of the tent city to care. As I said, there is no sense of urgency in the camp. These people are at the end of their tether; they cannot do long term planning. They have a place to put their head tonight and that’s all they can take on today. But kids can’t grow up this way. People can’t be their best selves. The area is ripe for an epidemic or incident that could be an even greater disaster. And it will be too cold soon. We need to step in and care – to have compassion, donate, volunteer and vote for people who care.



Today I did a Triathlon – that’s almost 20 miles total swimming, biking, running by Ann Treacy
August 12, 2018, 9:25 pm
Filed under: Minneapolis

First I am thankful for all of the people who got me to finish line. Heather got me to sign up, bike and do some night runs. Monica got me running years ago. Kallie got me on a bike! Thank you!

Second – I finished a Triathlon. That means, swim 500 yard in Lake Nokomis. Bike 15.5 miles from Lake Nokomis down to Franklin a Mississippi River Road. Run 3.1 miles. I think it was about 80 degrees.

So here’s how it went. I was not overly prepared. I have been on a bike maybe 10 times since I was 12 years old. I have never liked biking; I am not good at it. Running a 5K isn’t super hard for me – although I’m much more of a happy walker than a runner. Swimming was my sport as a kid so it wasn’t really an issue except I’m not a big fan of lakes. There are weeds and fish in lakes.

But I said I’d do it and so I did. I distracted myself from the physicality of the event by getting nervous about the transitions. For example, you have to run from the lake to your bike – but I can’t wear glasses swimming. They had a “special needs” table for glasses, which was probably not designed or placed by someone who wears glasses, but I eventually found it.

Another tough transition – swimming to biking and what to wear. It seems like most people just throw shorts on over their swimsuit or wear a wet suit of some sort. I didn’t really love either option. But I found a way to put on a dress, take off the suit and sneak on underwear fairly quickly. (I was much swifter than Mr Bean at the beach – probably about as discreet.)

The swim was fine. I realized I could avoid getting in anyone’s way by staying on the “outside” which probably meant more yards, but fewer people. The biking was hard on me. And the run wasn’t bad. OK it was – but I did run it!!

Some bad things – they write your age on your body. At this stage of the game I might choose public access to my weight over my age! We had to get there early – like 6:15 am early. There are a lot of people and a lot of rules I don’t know. And everyone is a little nervous so on edge. My new shoes made my heel bleed. So maybe getting shoes at TJ Maxx 2 days before the race wasn’t genius on my part. But there was a hole in the bottom of the shoes I liked.

Some good things – I finished. I finished with friends around (Heather & Monica). Aine (age 14) came to cheer me on. That was very sweet. Getting up before noon isn’t her favorite thing. I still like Heather – I wasn’t so sure at 7 am – but I’m definitely sure of it now!

Also – did I mention that I finished?



A dream for the amazing post-apocalyptic home on the streets by Ann Treacy
July 5, 2018, 10:45 pm
Filed under: Minneapolis

Last fall I wrote about the terrible beauty of a well-kept homeless campsite. It is under a bridge in Minneapolis – hidden out in the open. It’s what you would picture a post-apocalyptic home in the wilderness would be as a kid. There’s a truck at one end and a car at the other but otherwise no formal structure. There are rooms but only in the sense that a fort made of blankets has rooms. Well and furniture and art.

The room that always impresses me the most is the dining room, with a table, chairs and usually set with dishes.  There’s a porcelain doll on the shelf and a gorgeous, vintage ballgown hanging behind the table.

The house is missing so much – link running water or a ceiling but the details and decorations make you forget that. There’s a brick in-laid path leading into the house. There are knickknacks and art – so much art of all different forms.

Sadly I’m writing about it again because we found out that the man of the house passed away a few years ago – and the woman of the house was recently found dead. Marsha and Chester. Now that they have been named in the paper I feel like I can say their name too. I never met them although I stopped by a couple times to try. It was just a few weeks ago that Monica and I walked by – we heard some clanging about but no answered when we said hello. Both were musicians and apparently well known in nearby the West Bank neighborhood.

I have been so struck by this house that I went in to do a brief video tour and take some pictures because I don’t know what will happen to it now. I wish the site could be left ASIS or maybe modified. Keep the table, chairs and couches or maybe have an artist create a heartier version of what is there. Keep the art that was so painstakingly created and maintained and quietly; keep the space open for anyone who needs a place to rest. That might be someone experiencing homelessness. It could be a runner coming down the path in front of the home. It could be one of the kids from the neighborhood. It’s just a good reminder of daily humanity.

I don’t know who owns the land under the bridge – the city of Minneapolis  I would guess. Or it’s close enough to the University of Minnesota to be theirs. Apparently the space nearby was used when the 35W Bridge came down, yet the construction folks found a way to leave this space alone. It does inspire such reverence.

It would be a nice gesture to use that space to memorialize the creators. To remind people of the art and humanity in all corners of our works.



The Worst of Times: A vigil for Thurman Blevins, a black man shot by police in Mpls by Ann Treacy
June 25, 2018, 3:31 am
Filed under: Minneapolis

After the best of times this morning at the Pride festival, tonight I got a taste of the worst of times – a vigil for Thurman Blevins. Here’s an account of what happened from the Police (via Minneapolis Star Tribune)…

According to police, just before 5:30 p.m., at least two people called 911 to report that a man walking in the 4700 block of Bryant Avenue N. was firing a silver 9mm handgun into the air and ground. The callers provided a detailed description of the suspect.

Officers confronted the man and a “foot chase ensued that ended in shots being fired,” a police statement said. The man died at the spot where he was shot behind a garage in the alley between Aldrich and Bryant avenues N.

It doesn’t exactly gel with what I heard tonight. The story I heard was that Thurman was sitting on the curb with his girlfriend and a baby. The cops found him told him to stand up. He put his arms up. They yelled at him. He did run. (As half the vigil said – who wouldn’t?) They shot him. No one there saw a gun. (I have video of one account below.)

I don’t know which account is true. I know that this is a problem. I know my heart is sick.

The vigil was hard. We heard from family. We heard from people who have been through this before. We heard from people who were very angry. We heard from people who drew solace from God. Here are the snippets that caught me

  • The woman who pointed out that if these police are too afraid to talk to people without brandishing a gun – they should not be police. AND you need police from the community. People who know the people they are protecting and serving.
  • I saw a boy about 3-4 years old holding a poster for the Thurman Blevins – or Junior. That should not be a regular summer memory for anyone but especially not for someone so young.
  • The young man who was angry was angry and looking to fight. Just as my friend’s brothers were angry when she died – of cancer.  It’s a natural response for some. BUT that need to fight is dangerous unless it’s well channeled. The knowledge and the drive are powerful.
  • Every man killed is someone to someone. And probably someone to a lot of people.
  • People are gracious. They thanked everyone who came out. They recognize that being a cop is hard. They reach for scripture to say that they can withstand this and God is watching. I don’t know that I could feel that way if that shooting was in my zip code, if that person killed was someone to me personally.
  • Everyone has something to give – like the people who opened up their house for a public bathroom and charging station.



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