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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.


Best of Times: Pride makes us proud and happy by Ann Treacy
June 25, 2018, 2:51 am
Filed under: Minneapolis

Annual pilgrimage to the Pride festival today. I went with Aine and a friend. Special treat today – we had a purpose. I Tweeted for the Women’s March. Aine did SnapChat.

The festival spirit was dampened by the fact that Minneapolis police shot and killed a black man last night. So heartbreaking. (Will post on that vigil next.) And yet in some way all the more reason to celebrate progress made – unfortunately that progress has not been evenly distributed to all people. Black Lives Matter did protest at the parade they held it up because they were unhappy with officers participating in the parade. (One video highlight – we caught the start of the parade – and it starts with motorcycles – so much fun!)

They held it up for about an hour. We watched for a while on the way to march in the parade with the Women’s March. I think the shooting last night speaks to the need stand up – just as we all stood up a few years ago before Gay Marriage was legal. So while we waited, we didn’t mind. We are there to raise all voices.

Then we enjoyed the festival. Aine described it as like St Patrick’s Day will less beer and fewer body image issues. You do see a lot more skin. And I think last night there may have been more beer – but it is the same feeling of joy and fun.



Father’s Day Protest to keep families together – so hot and so uplifting by Ann Treacy
June 17, 2018, 11:39 pm
Filed under: St Paul

It was 98 degrees today. I only went to the protest because I committed to Tweeting for the Women’s March there. The cause was keeping families together – the Minnesota Immigrant Rights  Action Committee hosted it. It started at the offices of the Republican Party of Minnesota and the march went through Cedar Riverside to the top of Washington Ave. (For readers outside the Twin Cities that has the largest immigrant population in the area – especially from East Africa.)  I figured I’d be there 10 minutes, Tweet and leave. I figured there’d be a few dozen people.

Wrong on all accounts. There were loads of people there. And I marched for the duration because it felt good to be with people with compassion. People – some who seemed likely to be personally at risk for immigration issues – and many who just recognize that families need to be together, who realized that as a country we’re better with greater diversity. Better on all fronts – better problem solvers, better art, music and food, more innovative.

I walked for a while with a woman who was not American born but was adopted as a child to American parents. She said she felt some form of survivor guilt. So despite a disability (and again crazy heat) she marched. I met new candidates running for office. I saw one I knew – and I’m anxious now to hear her views on other issues. I met a woman with two daughters (maybe ages 6 and 8) who thought it was important to get kids going young. I told her it would pay off – that I have seen my daughters at rallies and protests with and without me now that they’re older and they started young too.

Walking down Cedar Ave, a woman from Wadajir grocery in lovely robes and head scarf handed out boxes of water and other drinks – thanking us for marching. Holding cars up at each street we passed, I saw a driver and passenger get out of their car to applaud the march. There was a ska band marching with us! So awesome!

Unfortunately I also saw a truck try honk and mock run down a marcher as he yelled get a job. (Wanted to tell him we took the Lord’s day off to protest idiots like him but I was too far away.) While buying a Diet Coke, I heard the manager of the convenience store say – no bathrooms for protestors, we’re closed to them. I suggested maybe he wasn’t as closed to protestors as he thought. And I did see organizers buy a lot of water from him later – so again closed only in his mind.

In the end, the kindness and compassion far surpassed the ill will – which I hope is an omen for the end of this movie!




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