Want to respect social distancing and help at the shelter? We could use a few meals!

Don’t get us wrong, normally we would love to have you stop by, check us out, get a tour and talk with guests but part of our job at the shelters is to promote and facilitate public health and that means heeding Governor Walz’s call for social distancing. But we do need help with meals.

We invite you or your group to come in to prepare a meal and/or we welcome meals delivered. We plan for 80 plates. We have water and coffee; other drinks are welcome but not necessary. Paper plates and any necessary cutlery are appreciated but not necessary.

Come and cook

We have a commercial-grade kitchen. We would love to have you prepare a meal for our guests. We can help connect you with Second Harvest for access to free produce. We will work with you on balancing your help, camaraderie and social distancing. Just contact us.

Order some meals or drop some off

Here are some ideas if you want to drop off food or have something delivered. We love nutritious meals, but just as some days call for pizza at home  – we are happy for pizza here too.

  • Order pizzas
  • Pick up sandwiches
  • Pick up sandwich ingredients and soup for us to make on site
  • Pick up buckets of chicken and sides
  • Build a taco bar, sandwich bar, pasta bar
  • Pick up lasagnas for us to cook on site

Contact us for suggestions or with any questions. We have guests who work in restaurants and staff who can help with serving and end stage of preparation. Thank you!

What do we need at the shelter? Cold medicine, disinfectant and masks

The weather is changing, which is the height of cold season, leading up to allergy season in Minnesota. We have experienced this year after year. I do, you probably do and our guests do too. Might be a sniffle or a cough, but as we all know, this year is different. We are hyper sensitive due to fears of coronavirus. We are hyper vigilant.

In lieu of public nurses on the street, the shelter serves a public health service to promote and facilitate good health with our guests experiencing homelessness as well as help them find medical attention when they need it. With that in mind, we are in need of the following:

  • Cold medicine (tablet form) for day or night, non-alcohol cough syrup and drops
  • Disinfectant sprays or wipes – not air freshener
  • Face masks (surgical)

We have been trying to get these items, but as you might imagine, the shelves are empty. If you are able to donate, please visit us from 6-9pm at Elim Church. Or we have various daytime hours for drop off. (Learn more.)

Also worth noting – the first winter shelters are due to close April 2 with many more to follow, like us, by April 30. Guests will be losing a place to sleep and the general public will be losing a frontline provider of public health service and we run the risk of putting sick people out to live in public.

Thank you Women’s March MN for Sunday Dinner

Tonight, dinner at the shelter was served by 12 volunteers from Women’s March Minnesota. It was delicious. It was a build-your-own-taco bar, homemade bread, brownies, scotcharoos and more. My heart melted a little when one happy guest told me she actually wished for tacos today. She wasn’t the only happy face in the crowd.

The volunteers came in at 6pm, started preparing the meal in the commercial-grade kitchen and setting up in the dining room. They took a quick break to tour the shelters with director Monica Nilsson. Then back at 7pm to start setting out the food and serving guests. There was plenty of time to visit with guests; a few of the volunteers offered that it was a highlight. At 8pm, guests moved upstairs and next door to settle in for the night while the volunteers cleaned up.

All told it was 2-3 hours in the shelter and I’m sure plenty of time shopping and preparing before they arrived. But what a difference it makes. It saves money for the shelters, it brings a homemade meal to the guests and provides and opportunity for guests and volunteers to mix and mingle. Reaching out to new people is always a good investment of time!

Women’s March Minnesota is the first group we’ve had adopt a meal, which means doing everything from prep to clean up. They are already checking their calendars to do it again, so that’s a good sign but we learned a few things along the way that might help another group sign up to help. We wanted to share some top questions:

  • How many dinners do you serve?
    Plan for 80.
  • Do we need to bring beverages?
    We have coffee and water. Juice is always a nice addition.
  • Do we need to bring plates and cutlery?
    Paper plates, napkins and plastic cutlery are helpful. Serving dishes and spoons are nice too.
  • Can we bring extra?
    Definitely! Guests may want to take some for later. Also you are welcome to leave behind food for us to use another night.
  • Can we get help with food costs?
    We work with Second Harvest, if you want help getting food we can connect you.
  • Can we get help on site?
    There will be someone on site who can show you the kitchen and help answer questions like – where do we leave food at the end of the night?
  • Can we bring kids to help?
    Before kids volunteer we like to talk to them (or have you talk to them) about what they might see to help with context of fatigue, altered states and mental health issues. Please contact us for more on bringing in kids.

Interested? You can sign up online and/or contact us.

Treat a stranger to dinner – at Elim Church & Strong Tower Parish Shelters

The shelters have been open for just over two weeks and we’re getting into a groove. The night starts with setup at 6pm. Guests line up at the door at 7pm. Dinner is served until 8pm. We’ve had everything from turkey dinner to hotdogs and macaroni to ribs and collard greens. The food is delicious and nutritious and it’s a chance for guests and volunteers to sit and relax, refuel and talk.

People often ask how they can help. For many people, sponsoring a meal for a night, a table or even a person is an affordable opportunity. We serve about 100 plates per night; the cost can be as low as $100 per night thanks to a partnership with Second Harvest, a nonprofit that supplies help to shelters like Elim Church & Strong Tower Parish Shelters. They work with farmers, retailers and others to get affordable food into the hands of people who need it.

If you are looking for a way to help, we invite you to treat a stranger to dinner. Or if your wallet allows, treat a few with a donation to our fiscal agent, Tasks Unlimited. You can give online, by phone, by mail. And you can specify the shelters as beneficiary.

Staying awake to death

“I feel safe here”, perhaps the greatest compliment to any shelter provider. Where do you feel safe closing your eyes and falling asleep?

After one week of operating the largest project in Governor Walz and Lt. Governor Flanagan’s Minnesota Winter Homeless Initiative, the two churches who opened their doors, Elim Church, and their next door neighbor, Strong Tower Parish in northeast Minneapolis, have sheltered one chihuahua, 14 pairs of people (including 12 couples, 2 brothers and a brother and sister, all who can sleep next to each other), 47 unduplicated men and 29 women. Born in Brainerd. Born in Pipestone. Went to school down the block at Edison.

As Minnesotans spend the legislative session deciding if its a priority to fund emergency shelter, emergency services and homes, they shouldn’t think it’s only necessary to prevent people from freezing to death.

How well do you function with poor sleep? How about with days or weeks or months of it? Humans don’t just need a safe place to close their eyes at a certain temperature.

What is it like in the midnight hour in the basement of a church? Silence. A cough. Snoring. Tooting. An arm flung over a loved one. Peace. There is no more professionally gratifying sight for a shelter advocate.

Funded by the Schulze Foundation until May, we could use blankets, meals, prayers, compassion. http://www.elimstrongtowershelters.org
Photo taken with permission.

Pillows for everyone and at least one homemade quilt: gifts from St Paul

Tonight we got an amazing gift from Brian Wagner. He arrived at our front door with a truck full of pillows, blankets, linen, clothes and more. A friend of a Brian, former Minneapolis City Council Member Gary Schiff, is a friend of Shelter Director Monica Nilsson. Gary shared a post about the shelters on Facebook. It touched Brian enough that he shared it in various places and his friends and neighbors rallied enough to fill his truck.

Such generosity from new friends! The donation includes brand new pillows and one very special homemade quilt made by a woman who is disabled and homebound but who has offered to make more. Our hope is to share that quilt with a guest who finds permanent housing as a reminder of the help we get and give to strangers. A celebratory gift to help start a new life warm and with beauty.

We will welcome help! Are you interested in coming in and helping out -please sign up and join us:

Or if you have a group looking to volunteer, we are looking to serve dinner at 7pm for approximately 80 plates. As we ramp up the shelters, we are particularly looking for groups or organizations that are willing to take on an entire service from prep, cook, serve to clean up. There is a full kitchen available at the church. Shelter Director Monica Nilsson can try to help a meal group defray some cost with food from Second Harvest.

If you are interested in helping with meal service, please contact us or sign up online for Meal Service Volunteers.

“We made it!” came a cheer from a new guest at Elim Church and Strong Tower Parish temporary shelters.

photo taken with guest permission

Thanks to the kindness of two congregations and funding from the Richard Schulze Foundation, the shelters have been opened since Valentine’s Day, which means a week of successful meals, showers, new socks and nights of sleep, thanks to a dedicated team of staff and volunteers. We have 3 months of funding for a safe place for women and one for couples and men.

We just wanted to give a quick update and to thank the folks who have sent supplies and funding our way. It helps!! Tonight the two shelters have 50 people.

For those who haven’t spent time in a shelter, think airport meets hospital. Time is a different dimension. Guests wait for the doors to open, food to be served, time to make up a bed. You can see a little relief with each stage. It was at dinner last night that a couple cheered – we made it. Although I don’t know which was greater relief – food or dropping their bags.

Like a hospital, some people are experiencing high levels anxiety moving to irritability. Most people are tired. Some are unwell – from bad stomachs to mental health to addiction and at least one victim of a violent robbery on the light rail. Like an airport, people are looking for distractions in sleep, TV and talk. A highlight in the men’s dorm was pre-lights out laughing about something silly. But a laugh is welcome!

The staff and volunteers do what they can to offer safety and comfort not only with food, shelter and a bed but also with a kind word, a hug, a little understanding.

We’re still working out some details – like where’s the best place to store shampoo, how to handle smoking and how to feed guests who show up after dinner. As community, we’re coming up with expectations and plans.

We will welcome help! Are you interested in coming in and helping out -please sign up and join us:

Or if you have a group looking to volunteer, we are looking to serve dinner at 7pm for approximately 80 plates. As we ramp up the shelters, we are particularly looking for groups or organizations that are willing to take on an entire service from prep, cook, serve to clean up. There is a full kitchen available at the church. Shelter Director Monica Nilsson try to help a meal group defray some cost with food from Second Harvest.

If you are interested in helping with meal service, please contact us or sign up online for Meal Service Volunteers.

Viewing the snow fall from the cars where they sleep

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.

We open the shelter doors and in walks a friend

Tonight we opened the doors at Elim Strong Tower Shelters. The first person through the door was Michael. We met Michael last month at the Mall of America transit station while we were doing the annual Point in Time count of people experiencing homelessness with Governor Walz. (The picture at right is from that night.)

What are the odds? Michael looks a little different tonight; his eye is weepy. Last night he spent the night on the train and was attacked by two men trying to steal his bag. They hit him in head with a blunt object. But he kept his bag. We are so glad that he is with us tonight. It’s a reminder to thank Governor Walz for the $5 million Minnesota Homeless Fund to address unsheltered homelessness. And a reminder that we don’t know the stories of the people who cross our path but kindness is a good start to a new chapter.

We are here to offer kindness, shelter and a tasty meal. Tonight was a soft opening and for that we were glad. Staff got to know each other and guests. We set up donated televisions. Everyone enjoyed a delicious meal from Freedom from the Streets, a group of friendly, talented professionals who have experienced homelessness themselves. The guests are now asleep. Morning will come soon enough.

Tomorrow night we will be here again with doors open. We expect we will be filled soon, so now is a good time to get in. Guests can call us in advance to reserve a bed and once in, they can hold their space while they need it. If you know of someone in need, please send them our way:
Elim shelter phone number: 612.814.2490 (women only)
Strong Tower shelter phone number: 612.756.6606 (men and couples)

48 hours to shelter opening: a moment of hope, planning and asking

We are a mere 48 hours from opening. So much has happened in the last week. Staff has been hired. Mats have been acquired. Volunteers have signed up. But there’s more to do.

It feels like the day before Christmas Eve. We’re tired but we can’t stop; we can’t sleep until we know we’re ready because being ready will make the opening so much better. Everything feels quiet and empty as we organize what we have, assess what we need and plan for the grand opening.

Turns out we need:

Update [2/14/20 10 am] – thank you for the generosity!! I have updated the list below

  • 60 pillows
  • 50 blankets
  • Sample size toiletries
  • Deodorant
  • Tampons & other feminine products
  • Underwear (men & women)
  • Socks
  • cash donations – always welcome

If you can help, please drop items off at Elim Church (get hours). Or we can always use cash donations. And we will happily accept well wishes. Think of us over the next two days. Imagine the empty gym filling with people. Feel the room warming up as guests come in from the cold and smell the food cooking for a communal meal.

We are tired and inspired and ready for Friday!

%d bloggers like this: