Below is a literary dialog between Charles Cudd, luxury custom home builder and Monica Nilsson, homeless advocate. (With a special thanks to luxury home builder Charles Cudd Sr, President of Cudd Homes, a 2019 Reggie Award winner for best of the fall Parade of Homes, for sharing your company’s story related to homelessness.)
Charles: My team is currently designing and building many luxury homes throughout the metropolitan area; many are well over a million dollars and some several million. I’ve been in this business over 44 years, building homes all over Minnesota and Wisconsin. While I’ve long had a concern for people who are homeless, we didn’t directly cross paths. Then I learned one of my crew, a highly skilled carpenter, sold his tools, the one thing a professional carpenter would never do. Then, I learned he was sleeping outside.
Monica: The image of people sleeping outside may be an inner-city tent encampment. You don’t see the families in vehicles in a suburban rest stop or the parking lot of a church. A passerby doesn’t see the woman sheltering in the woods of lake country who hopes for security from a tent’s zipper not a door’s lock.
The term for people like Chuck’s employee who can’t access shelter, because they are full or don’t exist in a community, is unsheltered. Governor Tim Walz and Lt. Governor Peggy Flanagan announced in late December 2019 a Minnesota Winter Homeless Initiative, appealing to the public and private sectors to immediately increase shelter capacity across the state. On any given winter night, 1300 adults and 300 children sleep outside or in public spaces. This figure has doubled since 2015.
Charles: I’ve donated to different programs over the years and heard about a lot of services, so I brought my employee to get help, thinking he would receive shelter until he found housing. When we met Monica, she gave us information and mentioned staying in touch. I said, “Wait, where does he go?” I didn’t realize the existing programs are full.
The old thinking that people just need to get a job doesn’t address the problem anymore. People have jobs but won’t keep them if they’re sleeping in cars. They need a safe place to rest so they can work to save for housing. For others, they need care for untreated trauma or a mental or chemical health concern.
My employee lived with my family for a time but his significant healthcare needs required professional care that we could not provide and it simply overwhelmed my family. He then stayed alive with monthly transit passes to shelter on the trains or in transit centers when the shelters were full. I am a home builder who has built well over 2000 homes but I couldn’t find him the one roof he needed.
Monica: Through the fund, the Richard Schulze Foundation has provided 90 days of operations for the sheltering of homeless women and men at two churches willing to open their doors-Elim Church, founded in 1893, and it’s next door neighbor, Strong Tower Parish, a congregation of 1200 Nigerians, a community recently slated to have its immigration banned from America by the current administration. The project is being fiscally managed by Tasks Unlimited, a 50 year old non-profit helping people living with a mental illness. As Jay Lund of Anderson Corporation, a fund donor stated, “Sometimes we all have to come together for certain challenges and this is one of those challenges and one of those times.” When 90 days ends, some will have moved into housing but those who filled their beds will return to sleeping in public without new investments.
Though stories highlight homelessness in the Twin Cities, the need is statewide. Today one third of Minnesota’s homelessness is in metro suburbs, one third in greater Minnesota, and one third in the Twin Cities.
Sue Koesterman at Churches United for the Homeless in Moorhead has hosted up to 90 people every night. They are always full, with 250 people on the waiting list.
Lee Stuart operates the Duluth area’s primary homeless shelter, CHUM. It hosts 80 individuals and six families, night after night. Between 150 and 200 people sleep outside.
Jennifer Kuoppola, with Bill’s House on the Iron Range, says in a 30-minute span, three parents and their children were turned away. The shelter was full. One of the mothers said she’d sleep outside but needed shelter for her children, ages 4 and 7.
In Bemidji, Village of Hope has turned away 300 children and their parents.
While housing ends homelessness, emergency shelters save lives, reduce first responder calls, decrease trauma, provide a path to stable housing and make communities more livable for all of us. The Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless and Homes for All coalitions will again ask the legislature to adequately fund the Emergency Services Program in 2020, states MCH’s Kirsten Rokke.
Charles: Though I’m a fiscal conservative, even I can see that the math isn’t working. We are wasting money having people without housing. While trying to help my employee, I learned more. From what I’ve observed, I believe there are cities posturing in support of affordable housing but when it comes down to it, they shy from following through in its production. I’ve seen affordable housing design plans that met the zoning and land use requirements, complied to the letter, and people show up en masse to say “not here”. Some developers have the capacity to build the housing without help but most don’t.
On this, Monica and I agree: when people are on life’s edge, we must do better, in both the private and public sectors, to meet people’s most basic needs.
Until the need for affordable housing is met, which I believe will take years, unsheltered individuals and families need a safe place to sleep. Fortunately, after months, my carpenter obtained supportive housing. Yet I remain haunted knowing there are people like my employee who are facing the shocking brutality of surviving the winter outside, now viewing snowfalls from the cars in which they sleep.
Charles Cudd Co. was a 2019 Reggie Award winner for best of the fall Parade of Homes. Monica Nilsson is serving as Shelter Director for the Elim Church and Strong Tower Shelters project.