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Gloria Steinem: Democracy 101 our bodies belong to ourselves by Ann Treacy
February 20, 2020, 4:44 am
Filed under: Minneapolis

Thanks to my Women’s March MN buddy Teresa for the invitation to see Gloria Steinem get interviewed by Kerri Miller tonight at the University of Minnesota. What an honor to get a perspective from someone who has been focused on lifting up women for so long and has met so many smart and interesting people along the way. If I were in school Id’ be asking for extra credit from all of the things I learned tonight.

Lesson One: Democracy 101 our bodies belong to ourselves
Inherent in democracy is the idea is that people have agency over their own bodies and their voices. Gloria (yup, I’m going first name here) mentioned this in light of reproductive rights and the #MeToo movement. It seems obvious once you hear it but today women do not have agency over their bodies. Just earlier in the day I attending a Rally for Reproduction Freedom. Abortion is legal in Minnesota but there are a lot of hoops required. If a minor, you need permission from bother parents. Doctors are required to provide nonmedical info to patents, which as info on child support. You need a 24 hours waiting period. There are only 5 clinics in Minnesota that perform abortions and 3 of those are in the Twin Cities. You don’t need permission or a waiting period for a gun. And you don’t need a waiting period for any other medical procedure. Women’s reproduction should be healthcare, not politics.

Lesson Two: Never too young
When asked if there was anything she could change about her life as an activist Gloria said, I would have started earlier. It sounds like she felt the need but lacked the boldness at a younger age. It made me proud of dragging my own three girls to demonstration and rallies at a very young age – certainly stroller age. It’s a different era to be sure and I think that shift in personal and community boldness has helped us raise girls who are more comfortable participating and leading social change at young ages – including the Youth Strikes for Climate Change and Students Demand Action for gun control.

Lesson Three: Christianity is a Patriarchy
Women give birth; as Gloria says, we corner the market on that. The church offers rebirth in baptism. Even better they do it to erase the original sin inherently passed from generation to another to anyone born of woman. Even better than rebirth away from sin, the church promises life after death, a reward that cannot be proved. Instead of celebrating birth, the church denigrates it by trying to one-up the process.

Lesson Four: ERA is good economic stimulus
Equal Rights for women, equal pay for women would put $500 billion into the economy each year. OK, Gloria wasn’t so specific but I looked it up

If all working women in the United States aged 18 and older were paid the same as comparable men, women’s average earnings would increase $6,870, from $38,972 to $45,842 (or 17.6 percent) annually (Table 2). Added up across all working women in the United States, this would amount to an earnings increase of $512.6 billion, or 2.8 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2016 (see Figure 2 for state-by-state data).[1] Put another way, U.S. women—who are also consumers, savers, and asset owners—lost $512.6 billion in 2016 due to the gender wage gap.

Lesson Five: Equality won’t be reached until child raising is equal
Historically raising children has fallen to women. To a huge extend that’s still true today. I always thought that issues around that related to unpaid work impacting perceived value of women and just the lack of economic security for women who have stayed home. Gloria brought up another reason: some men regress when admonished by a woman, especially in the workplace and more strongly when that woman is a supervisor or otherwise some power over him. That may be because for some men, the last woman in charge was their mother. They haven’t learned to accept direction or criticism from a woman.

It’s a lot to take in – in an hour-long show. I’ll be taking it all in over the next few days. Plenty to think about.



Prioritizing Joy! Or why I’m helping to open a homeless shelter on Valentine’s Day by Ann Treacy
February 15, 2020, 5:18 am
Filed under: Minneapolis

Years ago, I heard Solofa Batterjee give a TED University talk about things she has learned from her father. The lesson that strikes me most is – if you don’t know the difference between pleasure and joy than you haven’t lived. There are times in my life that I have better understood and times when I questioned it.

When I first heard her speak, my kids were pretty little I was all about spelling tests, eating the crusts of their pizza, giving up my sweater because they were cold – more joy than pleasure. I remember those days fondly. Now my kids are older and I order my own food, I see live music instead of do spelling quizzes and I keep my sweater – so it’s all pleasure. Subsequently the opportunity to feel the joy is welcome so, for Valentine’s Day I helped my friend (and lifelong homeless advocate) Monica Nilsson open a homeless shelter – Elim Strong Tower Shelters in NE Minneapolis. Actually it’s two adjoining shelters; one for women (Elim) and one for men and couples (Strong Tower). The grand opening was tonight.

However that doesn’t mean working with the shelter isn’t pleasurable. It is. People are kind and interesting. It is a reminder of how lucky I am to have so much. I always learn something. I met a man who used to spend summers on a farm in Mississippi. I had a tasty dinner prepared by people who have experienced homelessness in the past. I got to hang with Monica and her brother Dan.

It’s not a traditional Valentine activity. But I have enjoyed Valentine’s Day more this year than I have – maybe ever. A heart shaped box of chocolates have never made me happier than watching guests enjoy the ones they received.

It makes me think that the focus of Valentine’s day should stretch beyond romance. Maybe we need to focus on joy!

The shelter will be open for at least the next three months. We expect it will be filled soon, but it’s not yet. So now is a good time to get in. Guests can call us in advance to reserve a bed and once in, they can hold their space while they need it. One of my favorite moments of the night was hearing Monica call the Minneapolis street outreach teams so let them know that there were new beds in the city – send people down. Word needs to get out but it’s so nice to know that more people will have a place to rest. If you know of someone in need, please send them our way:
Elim shelter phone number: 612.814.2490 (women only)
Strong Tower shelter phone number: 612.756.6606 (men and couples)



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…



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.



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!



2018 MN Homeless Memorial March and Service by Ann Treacy
December 21, 2018, 4:05 am
Filed under: Minneapolis

This is always a very sad, yet very beautiful event. A march and service for the members of the homeless community who have passed away in the last year. That includes people experiencing homelessness and advocates. Many friends will remember Nick Coleman’s passing this year.

Each person is remembered on the march with a sign carried by a walker and in the service, when the call the name and light a candle for the deceased. Monica Nilsson carried the sign for Nick, which was very fitting. I think between his powerful pen, and Monica’s inside knowledge they have been able to shine a light on individuals and the community who needed help.

This year the priest talked about a larger light shone on homelessness in the last year. It started with the Superbowl in Minneapolis in January. While a fun event for most people, the game, the hoopla and activities such as shutting down public transport made life tougher for people experiencing homelessness and there were demonstrations. Fast forward to summer, fall and into winter and the Twin Cities housed two large homeless encampments in St Paul and in Minneapolis. Both have received a lot of media attention. Both have been shut down, leaving most of the residents to find another place to stay in a town that simply does now have enough affordable housing or adequate shelter to accommodate the need.

A little like the #MeToo movement – it’s a slow work in process. I don’t see a lot of change yet but at least I see a greater recognition for the need to change and do better. I think that’s why I find this service so heartwarming, it’s hosted and attended by people on the front lines – people who are always remembering and doing better.



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.




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