The world of those experiencing homelessness has certainly become more challenging since our last “On the Street” report. With the advance of the virus into MN and our community people without a permanent place to call home, are having, like many others, to deal with a host of disruptions to their lives. The already all-consuming effort to stay warm, fed, and alive has been made ever more difficult by the closing of safe havens like the library, restaurants and stores and the changing schedules of service providers. As for places to sleep the Salvation Army is full, On Friday the Place of Hope was open to those who wish to stay the night if they register between 4:30 and 6:00 pm or are brought in by police. Otherwise the doors are locked except for smoke breaks. If you leave, you cannot return for 24 hours per two staff on two different shifts. If you do not stay overnight, you cannot stay for meals. Bag lunches are available instead of the evening meal. No food is provided for breakfast or lunch on weekdays except for residents. Salvation Army provides a bag lunch on weekdays. The food shelf at Catholic Charities has reduced hours and is providing food in bags. Most community meals at area churches have switched to bag lunches. Many of these changes are prudent considering the pandemic but are often confusing to those who depend on them.
As recently as the 17th the police have continued to trespass folks, issue citations for trespassing or ask those not trespassing to move on, preventing them from re-establishing camps, or finding anywhere legal to sleep. This has compounded the stress and resulted in 2 additional frostbite cases from sleeping in a parking ramp. Thankfully the leaders in our community are responding to this obvious health emergency and will soon be providing sleeping accommodations in a safe social distancing environment at a dorm on the SCSU campus that will be able to isolate those testing positive. We look forward to assisting in any way possible in facilitating this encouraging development.
Our own services have also had to either be curtailed or altered as a result of Covid 19. We can no longer provide free rides or pick up and deliver furniture, because our volunteers, donors, and recipients are often at risk because of age or health. Laundry Love similarly has been put temporarily on hold. We are not however closed. We have been busier than ever trying to adapt to our new reality and keep all those on the streets informed, safe, warm and fed. This period we have distributed 7 sleeping bags, ten tanks of propane, 5 gas cards, 10 air mattresses. We have had one furniture pickup and 4 requests for pickup, 8 deliveries and 5 requests. Six folks were placed in a motel room, 2 sent to hospital, 13 trespassed, issued trespassing, citations or told to move on by police for camping, sleeping in garages, parking ramps, and entryways that we know of. We have assisted in placing two people into housing.
Our friends are now pouring on to the streets in increased numbers. The cold weather rules for warming centers no longer apply. People trespassed from shelters can now be refused entry. The jail is trying to reduce its population and soon those in apartments who can no longer afford to pay their rent will be evicted. Those who depend on panhandling have seen donations to them decreasing dramatically. Those on the street are becoming ever more desperate.
We are being asked for things we have not encountered before. couples need money to get home, to mom and dad, they are scared and need their families now more than ever. We are being asked to help with car repairs so a mother and her disabled son can continue living in their currently nonfunctional car, recently a need for clothing has surfaced as all the thrift shops are closed. Most of all, we are being asked for food. And always for a place to stay. Our last message detailed how a person can help those outside while not creating a health risk for yourselves. The response has been outstanding. churches and individuals have stepped up and responded in dynamic ways assembling care packs and getting them out or asking where to find those who need them. Individuals have contributed sleeping bags, gift cards, household goods, furniture, tarps, tents hand sanitizer, clothing and $960 in cash. St Paul’s contributed household items, Weaving Love MN donated several mats. It’s great to live in such a caring community.
Neighbors to Friends have set up a location for the collection and distribution of bags of light weight non-perishable packaged food for at Lake George on the warming house side starting Tuesday from 2:00 to 3:00. If you cannot get to Lake George, panhandlers can also be found near Savors, Walmart, Taco Bell, Cashwise, McDonalds, 25th Ave. by Culvers on Highway 10, near KwikTrips, the library, Salvation Army, 9th Ave express, the downtown bus depot, courthouse square, parking lot across from capital one.
What we need are tents, sleeping bags, tarps, hand sanitizer, food gift cards, cash donations and care packs. Our donor page on Homelesshelpinghomeless.org is now active. We expect that increased isolation rooms may be needed at motels depending on how quickly the dorm solution is implemented and an increase in demand for clothing.
Remember during these stressful times, to take some of the extra time you have been given to connect with those you love, and reach out to someone who is alone. A kind word benefits both the speaker and the listener.