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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.



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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