Shelter wish list Sunday additions – Rain ponchos, jackets and umbrellas

I just updated the “top needs” section of the shelters’ donation webpage to include:

  • Rain ponchos/jackets
  • Umbrellas

If you are outside or look out your window or at this week’s weather forecast, you’ll know why. Many Minnesotans cozied up to shelter in place yesterday away from the threat of coronavirus and away from the cold and rain. Most of our guests were not as lucky. Like many adult shelters we are open overnight, not during the day, so our guests are left to wander all day long. The malls are closed, restaurants are closed, the libraries are closed and, as we learned from guests last night, access to Metro Transit is restricted.

Guests report that they were restricted from Metro Transit if they didn’t have documentation saying they were going to work. Some even reported being moved away from transit stops and shelters. By the time our doors were open they were wet and cold and tired. As we all would be.

The immediate solution? We are in search of rain ponchos, jackets and umbrellas.  You can drop off items from 6-9pm. (Or, we have had a generous volunteer to help with delivery.)

It’s a marathon, not a sprint – we’re on our way and we have miles to go!

Six weeks ago the race started; the shelters opened and we’ve been running ever since. Like a marathon, there are times we feel the exhaustion, there are times that feel like a downhill coast, there are times we wonder if we can do it. And there are times when the crowd cheers us on, someone hands us a water or we get a wave from a friend and that that moves us forward.

On this rainy Saturday we celebrate the folks who cheer us on. Thank you to Teresa Kleinschmidt, who recently had disinfectant and medicine shipped to the shelters. To Brian Wagner,who has offered to deliver donations to the shelters. To Kevin Somdahl-Sands for the financial donation. To Involve Minnesota, who made and delivered 100 bag lunches. Thank you all! Your generosity and thoughtfulness put a pep in our step.

Another celebration? We got funding for another month until May 31!! The money comes as an unexpected second investment from the original Minnesota Winter Homeless Fund. For that we are thankful. But as I said, this is a marathon, not a sprint, we still have a long way to go.

Six weeks ago, the world was a different place – thanks to COVID-19. Our expenses have increased as we strive to protect our guests and the general public:

  • We need more disinfectant and time to use it.
  • We have to limit volunteer activity in respect to social distancing
  • Staff time is spent asking a series of health questions to screen for potentially sick or vulnerable guests. (We are thankful to have a nurse practitioner on staff but as she administers to health issues, someone else must take on her scheduled tasks.)
  • Staff time is also spent addressing an increase in mental health issues as we all manage heightened anxiety related to the impact of COVID-19 threat.

So the marathon is on – but our form is good and our spirits are up. But if you want to cheer us on – donations are always welcome!

What’s the cost of not sheltering homeless people during a pandemic?

According the Minneapolis Star Tribune, cost for sheltering the homeless during the COVID-19 pandemic could hit $1 million per week for Hennepin County. Hennepin County has about 4,000 homeless residents, of whom about 400 are considered high risk because they are 55 and older. There have been strides to separate the high risk citizens…

Rogan [the county’s assistant administrator for operations] said the county currently has 306 beds that qualify as quarantine and isolation units, many of them in hotels. Already 190 are being used by individuals at high risk of contracting the virus, and another 19 are occupied by residents who are symptomic, he said.

But the infection is still in its early stages in the state, and the number of beds needed for the infected homeless could climb steeply.

But is cost our biggest concern right now? And is this an issue for Hennepin County to shoulder without help?

Another article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that in Minnesota in 2018 nearly 20,000 people a night experience homelessness. The article goes on to report…

“We are seeing an increase in the intensity and severity of homelessness,” said Michelle Decker Gerrard, who directed the study. “They have increased physical and mental health problems. We’re seeing more people on the street because shelters are full.”

The urgency was reflected in the executive order issued Wednesday by Gov. Tim Walz.

“Individuals without a home are exempt from the restrictions in this [shelter in place] executive order, and they may move between emergency shelters, drop in centers, and encampments,” the order said. “Encampments should not be subject to sweeps or disbandment by state or local governments, as such sweeps or disbandment increase the potential risk and spread of COVlD-19.”

So while the rest of Minnesota’s 5.6 million people shelter in place, what provisions are we making for the 20,000? Is it enough? Allowing people experiencing homelessness to move freely in the city, is a cheaper option than finding a way for them to shelter in place but doesn’t that create a great vulnerability for all Minnesotans? Paths will cross at the gas station, the grocery store, the hospital. Germs will spread.

Our own Monica Nilsson is quoted in the article…

Monica Nilsson, shelter director of Strong Tower Parish and Elim Church Shelters in northeast Minneapolis, said Wednesday that current community practice is “to concentrate adults in crowded shelters 12 hours a day, and then release them into the public to wander and potentially spread or contract COVID-19 12 hours a day.”

“I’m glad the Legislature has the opportunity to mitigate this,” she said.

She’s right; now is the time for the Legislature to invest in the safety of all of us. It might cost $1 million per week in Hennepin County to shelter the homeless but that will save lives in and outside of the homeless community. Curbing the spread of COVID-19 will also expedite a return to business as usual, which is an investment in local economic development.

Investment is required at the national, state, and local levels in the public and private sectors.

EVENT 10am today (Mar 26) Press conference on role of Shelters in curbing Coronavirus: featuring Monica Nilsson

Posted on the Elim Church Shelter whiteboard

Today at 10am, Statewide Homeless Service Providers and Advocates will sound the alarm on COVID-19, specifically talking about the futility of an executive order that asks people to shelter in place yet does not protect the homeless.

Leaders from organizations across Minnesota providing emergency shelter and services to people experiencing homelessness will give an update on the extraordinary public health and safety challenges presented by the COVID-19 crisis. They will call for heightened urgency and resources to ensure this highly vulnerable population and those who serve them are adequately protected. Statewide goals to #FlattenTheCurve, prevent community spread and manage demand on hospitals will fall short if critical support is not secured.

Monica Nilsson is on the agenda to speak about the Elim Church and Strong Tower Parish Shelters and draw from her decades of experiencing working with people experiencing homelessness.

Event details: Thursday, March 26th
10:00 a.m.
Zoom Meeting:

  • Join through computer: https://zoom.us/j/942617836
  • Join by phone: 1-312-626-6799 and enter Meeting ID: 942 617 836
    Zoom tips:

    • Please give yourself a screen name upon entering the meeting to ensure a smooth process.
    • If you plan to ask questions, plan to join from your computer or app
    • Everyone will be muted so please use the chat room or the “raise your hand” feature if you want to ask a question. A moderator will read your question or unmute you.

Public Health and Goals to #FlattenTheCurve At Risk if Homeless Are Not Adequately Protected

Can Census2020 accurately count people experiencing homelessness? Not during a pandemic

Census 2020 is too important to get wrong. It determines political representation and Federal funding. By state, but by county too. Minnesota could lose a congressional seat if the count is low. Census data is a major factor in planning services like schools, hospitals and housing. Temporary shifts in homeless and student populations will impact future funding and planning.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune recognizes the precarious predicament…

The coronavirus pandemic couldn’t have arrived at a worse time for the 2020 Census. The once-in-a-decade count was just about to kick into overdrive when the crisis upended American life.

Rallies, doorknocking and other events encouraging people to fill out their forms around Census Day, April 1, have been canceled. Plans to contact hard-to-count college students, homeless people and remote rural residents have been delayed, as have training sessions for Census takers and other operations.

The same article reports that, as of yesterday, 29 percent of households have returned them. And plans have been made to shift doorknocking to phone calling and social media and having the forms online is helping – for those with broadband and technology to access it. Strides are being made to overcome virus barriers but they are leading to uneven results.

The article takes a look at people experiencing homelessness and the census…

The virus will also complicate counting the homeless, who are typically counted wherever they are located on April 1 ­— though counting will now begin later. Hennepin County has begun moving homeless seniors to suburban hotels, meaning they may be counted in Bloomington rather than where they typically reside in Minneapolis.

Monica Nilsson, who operates two homeless shelters in Minneapolis, said that could mean the city loses out on more than $5 million over the next decade — based on estimates that each person counted garners $2,800 in federal funding for their community.

“Minneapolis deserves that income because they are the ones who care for the homeless community,” said Nilsson, who is advising Hennepin County on counting the homeless.

The Census Bureau is also encouraging homeless shelters to provide information on their residents so Census takers don’t need to conduct in-person interviews. But Nilsson said shelters are already experiencing staff shortages and dealing with complex quarantine arrangements.

“We are scrambling as it is in our shelters,” Nilsson said.

“We all depend on the Census helping us get proper data,” she added. “It’s just not the time for this right now.”

For similar reasons, the count of college students may be skewed as students have moved “back home” from neighborhoods closer to campuses. Again, Census results will determine future political representation, federal funding and planning. It’s too important to get wrong.

Thank you Bad Waitress on Central, Classic Cookie and Kris for food at the shelters

Do you know what it takes to run a shelter during a pandemic? It takes a village. Listening to Monica field phone calls from staff, volunteers, policymakers and media during her “break” today, I can tell you every act of kindness or donation means a lot. Today I want to get specific.

First – thanks to Kris for organizing another dinner with her colleagues at Women’s March Minnesota and other friends. What a great way to being people together! They served dinner before COVID-19 restrictions and have had it delivered a couple of time since. Those are tasty meals that guests enjoy and one less worry for staff.

Second – thanks to Bad Waitress in Northeast Minneapolis for a refrigerator full of fresh produce, bread and hash browns. Loren Moe called looking for a home for their food. We are thinking breakfast for dinner soon with the potatoes, cheese, avocado! The Bad Waitress is closing but only temporarily so please look for the restaurant to reopen with new branding once the dust settles.

Third – thanks to Classic Cookie for a late-night surprise last night.  It was too early to be a midnight snack, but you can imagine the delight when dozens of cookies appeared as if from nowhere. They were delicious and brought a smile to many who needed a day brightener!

These donations are essential to providing services to some of Minnesota’s most vulnerable citizens – to keep them healthy and strong. Also, you can never overstate the gratitude that the guests have for the kindness shown to them. You know how nice it feels to be remembered!

We are still looking for dinners – contact us with questions or if you’re interested in delivering a meal. (We are practicing social distancing where we can.) And we are in need:

  • Cold medicine (tablet form) for day or night, non-alcohol cough syrup and drops
  • Disinfectant sprays or wipes – not air freshener
  • Face masks (surgical)
  • No-touch thermometers

Drop items off from 6-9pm or contact us for other options.

Now we protect them: moving most vulnerable COVID-19 to ad hoc shelter space

“It’s better than Camp Pendleton”, Tim stated as he walked into the comfort and isolation of a suburban hotel with his friend Dan and Dan’s best friend.

Homeless shelter operators in Hennepin County have spent the past few days moving our community’s elders into hotel space for isolation. They are the most vulnerable, as we all know, and more vulnerable when sleeping inches from dozens of others who have spent the day living in public, as libraries and drop in centers closed. Dignified women relenting to urinating outside. Where do they wash their hands, you ask?

Not just the military veterans are being protected, those who were willing to protect us long ago, but the elders, the Grandmas and Papas, the people in the twilight of life.

As a 79 year old woman arrived at Elim Church by cab last night at midnight, without socks and wearing slip on shoes, she immediately stated that she couldn’t walk to the nearest bus stop and wondered where she would go when the shelter closed at 7am this morning until tonight. She then asked if she could have a cookie on the table. We will see if we can get her into the Elder Hotel on Monday.

Call your legislator, County Commissioner, Mayor, City Council Member, call at bedtime if you are nervous, when you know you’ll get voicemail, say thank you and leave a question, “How are you addressing the homeless community in this state of emergency?” Ask them how it will benefit the community to have 80 more people, currently sheltering at night at Elim Church and Strong Tower Parish, move into living at the IDS Crystal Court, the aisles of Target or the daytime trains and buses, when winter shelter funding ends April 30?

Need something else to do from your couch? Send a note of encouragement to someone in direct service work: homeless or housing services, healthcare, corrections, fire or police. Send a text, a voicemail, a card or an email. Just the sound of your voice or the words you write really do help as the pressure builds. And close your eyes to see a hotel full of tired, grateful seniors protected from that which we can’t see.

Minnesota’s plan for COVID-19 protection for people experiencing homelessness

What do you do when the number one recommendation to prevent and protect from COVID-19 is stay at home and you don’t have a home? The Minneapolis Star Tribune looked at the issue of protection for people experiencing homelessness today with a recognition that they are double victims, “left stranded in daytime as public places close and consigned at night to crowded shelters that are prime spots for contagion to spread.”

They outlined some of the local investment and efforts…

The Hennepin County Board has approved $3 million to quarantine at-risk homeless, and officials have begun moving older homeless residents from shelters to hotels regardless of whether they’re sick.

Ramsey County will use up to $1.8 million from its general contingency account to set up two new quarantine and isolation facilities for the homeless.

Similar measures are being taken elsewhere, as alarms sound about the potentially devastating consequences of COVID-19 on the nearly 570,000 Americans without a place to live. …

Ramsey County is targeting two facilities in St. Paul to quarantine and isolate homeless people with the virus, including the recently closed Boys Totem Town facility, said Max Holdhusen, the county’s manager for housing stability. At one of the county’s three shelters, people have been allowed to stay in rooms not usually in use.

They recognized some of our worries…

As the number of cases in Minnesota again spiked Wednesday, shelters in Minneapolis reported that some homeless people were showing symptoms of the respiratory illness and being sent to hospitals, though officials said no cases of COVID-19 had been confirmed among the state’s homeless population.

Workers at shelters have expressed concern about a lack of supplies, including masks, gloves and hand sanitizer, to prevent the spread of the disease.

And the growing need for support for people…

Nearly 8,000 Minnesotans experienced homelessness in 2019, up 10% from the previous year and the highest level in five years, according to an annual count by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

They recognize how hard it is for us at Elim Church and Strong Tower Parish Shelters, as it is for everyone…

The abrupt closing of public facilities and cuts to overnight service on buses also has created an influx of new visitors to area shelters already at or near capacity. On Tuesday night, a temporary shelter operated by Elim Church in northeast Minneapolis had to turn away five people seeking a place to sleep. It was the first time that the small shelter in the church’s basement has turned anyone away since it opened in early February.

“To say to someone, ‘Hey, we don’t have the space,’ is really, really hard,” said Freddy Toran, a volunteer at the shelter. “These are people who are already not getting enough rest and have weakened immune systems.”

Updated wish list of shelter supplies and thanks for our growing list of benefactors

Mr. Rogers always said, in times of crisis, look for the helpers. We looked and we found, and we’ll be highlighting them going forward.

Today we want to thank Mary for grocery bag full of homemade cookies. In deference to family in a high risk demographic, Mary keeps herself distanced at home. And she bakes.

She kindly offered to bake batches of cookies for the guests at the shelters. We were able to pick them up for delivery. There’s a role for everyone and homemade cookies are an appreciated treat for the guests. First, they are so tasty. Second, it’s a reminder that someone cares. That’s important. (The sign below is from Mary’s yard.)

Today we have a new list, if you’re in a position (or in possession) to help us out. You can drop off supplies (details on when and where are here) or contact us if delivery is an issue.

  • socks and underwear
  • masks for coughing people
  • 12 Lysol type air disinfectant (not air freshener)
  • 6 surface spray disinfectant for shower walls
  • 12 Microban or similar wipes for mats
  • 6 boxes hospital grade gloves
  • 1 case of cough drops
  • 6 non-alcohol cough syrup
  • cold medicine day and night tablets
  • Vitamin C
  • 12 foot powder
  • 24 or 36 each of serving canisters of sugar and creamer
  • case of 8 oz insulated coffee cups
  • 2 no touch thermometers
  • 24 paper towels
  • 300 33 gallon black garbage bags
  • 100 black ink pens

Balancing challenges of coronavirus threat, homelessness, public transportation and health

Every day, we get new challenges at the homeless shelters. Yesterday we posted about our need for meal service. We want to thank the people, sports teams, nonprofits and apartment building who have stepped up to host a dinner. (And let you know that we definitely have more spots open!) You guys bring the good!

The threat of coronavirus is bringing a host of new and unpredictable challenges. This evening, we learned that Metro Transit will be will be suspending service between 11 pm and 4:30 am. They report…

Additionally, Metro Transit’s existing operator shortage is expected to worsen due to strong recommendations to stay home in the event of illness, school closures and other factors. The move will also provide more opportunity to clean and disinfect buses and trains, helping to protect riders and operations staff.

This is a more difficult conundrum than dinners for our guests. We understand the need for cleaning but the difficulty is that they leave some of our most vulnerable citizens overexposed and open new vulnerabilities to the public at large.

Imagine the challenge to Minnesotans experiencing homelessness who spend their nights on the bus or train because these places are well-lit, policed and safer than other public options. These people will be displaced starting tonight at 11pm. They have had no time to prepare.

Where will they go? Where would you go if had no home to go to in the time of quarantine? We may have a few spaces open at that time, but we won’t be able to accommodate them all. And again, how will they get here?

Truth is, they will disperse to different areas in the Cities. They may find space in bus shelters, transit stations or other public places. So while the buses and trains may be disinfected, germs will be spreading in new and unpredictable areas. It seems like a wash from a public heath perspective.

The long term answer is that we need more housing and shelter space. Our industry motto is shelter saves lives, housing ends homelessness. Right now we at the shelters are focused on increasing access to shelter space. Again, understanding that this is a harder question, we wanted to give a glimpse at the issues that meet us these days. And invite you to send any ideas – for example do you know of space that might be transformed into a shelter? Let us know!

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