Friends of the Homeless
This is not right! Never in my life would I have believed my city could be so cruel. Today as the freezing rain poured down, with the temperature dropping and with wind and blizzard conditions forecast the city decided that it is better for mentally ill vulnerable adults to spend the night outside. One week ago, on the day the wind howled, and the feels-like temperature dropped to minus fifteen degrees those experiencing homelessness came pouring in off the streets into Lincoln Center. There had been a fire at the Salvation Army and those who normally sought shelter there could not. Also, the Place of Hope was not accepting folks that day due to a covid outbreak. So even though we are limited to 7 residents and 3 staff in the building, (due to the lack of a functioning sprinkler system), we made the humane decision to let people warm up and even sleep in the Center. We were caught and ordered to reduce our occupancy to seven. We tried our best using all our resources to place as many as we could in warm alternative spaces finally resorting to having them spend the night with friends. What seemed a reasonable solution turned into a nightmare for one challenged resident whose friend wouldn’t let him stay. He ended up sleeping outside lost his coat and shoes and was brought back to us by the police wearing his gloves on his feet. He spent the next two days in the shelter screaming in pain from frostbite causing angst among our other residents.
Now a second bout of inclement weather is upon us. We knew that another influx of folks trying to escape the freezing rain, wet snow, and dropping temperatures was coming. We didn’t want to repeat our prior experience, nor put any of our vulnerable residence in harms way. We contacted the city for three days, asking them what we could do considering the forecasted calamity. The only solution was to send them to the already over occupied Place of Hope where the city had reduced capacity. They did their best to accommodate us but could only take six men and a few more women.
Today the storm hit, the city inspected us in the morning and found more than our allowed seven in the building. Salvation Army could take no more in their warming area and we were tasked with sending mentally, chemically and physically challenged people out into a storm. I again appealed to the city to make an exception due to the weather and was told “no” and slapped with a citation and a $750 fine for breaking the fire rules. This even though all our smoke detectors and alarm systems and flashing strobes were functional. It seems that the city feels that it is more hazardous for vulnerable people to sleep in a warm shelter with three staff present around the clock than outside in freezing rain, snow, wind and cold. Retraumatizing those already suffering is ok providing the rules are not violated. How cold! How harsh! How dehumanizing! You would not put a child out in this weather. How is it ok to do it to a challenged adult? This attitude brings shame on our community we are better than this. Mary, Troy, Homeless Helping Homeless and I, we all joined this pursuit in order to walk with those experiencing homelessness in overcoming their barriers to food, clothing, and shelter not to be used as an instrument of oppression inflicting the pain of frostbite or death onto the weak and powerless.
The city says that they will continue to cite and fine us for failing to limit our occupancy to seven regardless of who gets hurt. We have decided to follow our consciences and do what is right. We are committed to bringing our building up to code as fast as possible, but in the meantime, we are not going to further traumatize those in our care. We are exploring our legal options to protect our clients.
At this crucial time, we are counting on your support in several ways, please contact the Mayor, City Council and staff to express your concern about putting homeless folks out in the cold just before Christmas or anytime. Ask them to establish a plan in the event our existing shelters become overwhelmed. Other cities have done it. Opening football stadiums, convention centers, schools and other public spaces during emergencies. Contribute funds to enable us to pay the recurring fines and launch a legal defense to protect the right to life, health and dignity for those we care for. Also, if the city continues to force people to live outside, we will need tents, heaters, sleeping bags and propane so that they will have half a chance. We will need funds to purchase these, or you can donate them yourself. We need prayers to soften the hearts of those who are more committed to rules than to people. We are counting on you to defend our community’s reputation as one where everyone even the most severely challenged can thrive.
Donations can be sent to Homeless Helping Homeless PO Box 475 Saint Cloud MN 56302 or on our web page homelesshelpinghomeless.org
Harry, Mary and Troy