The last two weeks have been a whirlwind of discouragement, disasters, disease and promise. How can so much happen in so short a time. The weather switching from cold, and snowy to warm and sunny and back to cold again, created great difficulties for those in the camp. The snow caused everything to get wet, the warmth turned the path to mud. People had to deal with how to keep warm, then how to dry things out. Clean up became difficult, competition for resources and warmth caused friction. Then the city decided that the camp posed a health hazard and scheduled it to be closed. This was a terrible disappointment to those in the camp who had spent so much time and energy insulating their tents and preparing them for winter. But this time, to the city’s credit, the camp was closed with dignity. There was no “move out now because here come the bulldozers,” kind of removal. Instead campers were given a two week notice to find somewhere else and move their stuff. The police, city, county, social service agencies, Neighbors to Friends and HHH all scrambled to relocate folks to somewhere where they could stay warm. Some went to motels, some to treatment, some to friends, some to the new warming center and some just went to a new location.
Then Covid hit again, closing the gym where folks were getting free showers, and restaurants that were beginning to hire folks and provided a place to warm up. A lot of providers had to pull back because of the risk of exposure to or contact with Covid positive friends or workmates. The prospects of a return to normal were dashed, and life on the street became more difficult again.
As some of you may know, many of our families experiencing homelessness have been sheltered in the Days Inn. On Saturday the 21st at 4:30 AM an electrical fire broke out in the motel. It sent smoke into the halls, causing fire alarms to sound, lights to go out. Kids in pajamas and shirtless adult sleepers raced out into the cold. The fire department hosed water on the flames, ceilings crashed onto people’s belongings. In all four rooms were destroyed and 28 rooms had to be evacuated because of the smoke. We got there early in the morning and provided blankets and clothing. Many folks were not allowed back into their rooms due to the hazardous conditions and those that could, had to go in with a firefighter to grab their most valuable possessions quickly and go. Place of Hope was also soon on the scene with a warming bus and snacks. Savers offered a huge discount to those needing clothes. Everything smelled of smoke. No one was harmed and Days Inn staff did a good job of keeping folks calm. Most of the residents were able to relocate into undamaged rooms in the motel.
On the more promising side, and thanks to all of you, the warming center at the Lincoln Avenue site was able to open. The city approved the site, we hired staff, and we were able to pay the rent and get it up and running. Two days before it opened we encountered a fellow who was unable to get in the Salvation Army because it was full. I had extra sandwiches from the Eastside food distribution site and I offered them to him. I asked him where he was sleeping that night he said in an ice cooler (the type they store bagged ice in to sell) that was abandoned. How fortunate we are that folks like you and our volunteers have now provided another alternative to individuals like him in the event Salvation Army and the Place of Hope are full. We have contracted with Next Step Transitional Services to assist us with setup, hiring, screening, training and to provide nursing and case management services to our guests. We would love to show it off to you but due to Covid and client privacy ask that you wait for photos and not just drop by.
The city has also approved a combination clinic-warming center that will open later this year in the Michael’s Café building. It will be managed by Next Step. The Lincoln site is managed by HHH. Hopefully, these two additional shelter options will greatly reduce the loss of life and limb from the cold this winter for the folks forced to live on the street.
We at HHH have much to be thankful for this year. We have received grants to provide motel rooms and food. Place of Hope, Catholic Charities, Neighbors to Friends and dozens of volunteers also help us to distribute meals to about 137 folks in motels and another 100 on the street. Many churches and the Knights of Columbus Ladies Auxiliary provide folks with coats and warm winter wear. The City and Police Department are pitching in to secure grants and direct folks stranded in the cold to area shelters, motels and warming centers. And neighbors like you have shown your willingness to contribute funding even in these hard times to enable our friends to stay warm.
The citizens of St. Cloud have shown that when we work together we can confront and overcome the serious challenges confronting us. We have come a long way in our quest to help folks escape life on the streets. The unsheltered in out community now have options to move from the street and encampments to warming centers and shelters to transitional housing. Next we have to break down the barriers preventing folks from getting to have jobs and permanent housing.
We see the city is already working on it. The city council study group focus this week is on affordable housing. A major employer is in discussions with their personnel department about how to overcome the barriers standing in the way of providing a job for those without an address or phone. Other business people are offering to assist those without jobs in starting their own businesses. The creative determination to release the talents of everyone in our town is what makes us proud to be a part of this community.
Your humble servants,
Harry, Mary and Troy
Send donations to: Homeless Helping Homeless
PO Box 475
St. Cloud, MN 56302