No Place to Sleep; Our Housing Crisis (Feb 27-March 4, 2020)

We continue to be amazed by the strength and perseverance of those experiencing homelessness in our community. They are continuously stressed by constant setbacks and hardships while often afflicted simultaneously with physical, and mental health challenges.  Their courage and determination to live on under such cruel treatment makes our personal worries appear trivial. We are humbled to count such folks as these our friends. Last week we shared how those in camps were being evicted. We convinced a few of them to go to shelters to stay warm and avoid being arrested until they could move their camps, only to find all their possessions confiscated upon their return to the East campsite.  Their tents, sleeping bags, heaters, clothes and all their possessions gone without notice. Another’s tent was burnt down while he was away. They were all crushed, angry and felt betrayed. Since it was cold, we had convinced them to take what appeared to be a safe reasonable course of action and stay in a shelter. They lost everything as a result. If the powers that be, expect to try to get people out of camps, punishing them when they do, is not the way to do it.  We reached out to the city and police and asked that they recommend a safe place for them to camp and were rebuffed.  This situation is untenable. People must sleep somewhere.  Even half dead animals don’t deserve to be kicked every time we pass by.

Now that temperatures are rising the warming centers are no longer an option.  The cold weather rules no longer apply and those with barriers can no longer stay in them. Recently residents in shelters were ordered to take everything they own with them every time they leave, or it will be thrown.  Others were given ten days to pick up their stuff or it will be disposed of. Add all that stress to the fact that you have no home to take it to,  and that if you try to lug it all to a camp or park or abandoned building or garage and stay there with it, you could be arrested or moved on.

The generation of all this tension is creating quite an explosive mix on the street. Folks are beginning to turn on one another. Already the violence has increased as those whose every possession is gone, steal someone else’s bedding or clothing to stay warm.  More are turning to drugs and alcohol just to get some relief from their misery There is a notable increase of people wandering around in a daze with all their stuff in shopping carts and begging on corners. Is this the image we want for our city?

The housing situation is in crisis.  There are very few places to rent that our neighbors can get into or afford. Even while possessing vouchers from the government that pays most of the rent, the homeless are hard pressed to find places that will take them.  The thrill of receiving a voucher is quickly turned into despair when a place to rent can’t be found. Property managers are increasingly expanding barriers to exclude these folks from their apartments, background checks, rental history, criminal history, credit scores, income requirements, huge deposits all are being used to keep the homeless, homeless.  Something must be done.

Thankfully the good citizens of St Cloud, many of its churches and community organizations still believe in the dignity of others.  One by one and group by group people disturbed by the situation are coming forward to do something about it.  One person, hearing of a couple who lost all at the East camp, found them on 33rd and purchased a new tent, clothes, and handwarmers for them and provided comfort, prayer, and council. Churches provided them with sleeping bags.  Many continue to offer the funds and equipment required for their  stressed out neighbors to simply survive If only our city and county governments could be persuaded to join in this initiative and seriously attempt to rectify these issues in constructive ways instead of using our taxes and our ordinances to repress, criminalize, and incarcerate the powerless and impoverished.   A few regulatory changes would make things easier for those struggling without places to live and sleep without breaking the law.  Now may be the time for those  of us who care to let our officials know that we don’t approve of the way that they are wasting our taxes chasing homeless people around jailing them on minor charges then releasing them only to start chasing them around again. Our elected and employed officials need to be charged by us the citizenry to find a place for them to stay, if the public option cannot be implemented quickly, officials should seek out, encourage and provide political cover for landowners and community folks who can.

This week also included having seven volunteers helping move furniture on Saturday, a generous person renting a truck for us. The Francian Sisters donating socks and gloves, Bethlehem Lutheran gifting long johns and quilts, Neighbors to friends providing us with adult diapers.  Nancy represented us at the working group on housing.  We received $110 in donations.  We gave away 5 gas cards, 5 20-lb tanks of propane. Had 7 Furniture and household deliveries, and 2 pick-ups. We had 5 new requests for housing 3 with kids. No housing was found.  Of the people who were evicted from the camps, one left town, 2 are in jail, 2 on the street, the rest are still camping in town, location unknown.

Remember always to always be gentle and patient with one another-Harry and Mary