“We are calling for an end to homelessness everywhere,” Smith said. “We call on our governor to devote more resources to housing our people – that is why we are here today.”
Smith is among a group of lawyers, political leaders and activists who met outside the Salvation Army shelter on Currie Avenue in Minneapolis on Saturday to try to raise awareness about National Homeless Day .
Experts say there are around 1,000 homeless people in the Twin Cities, but they fear the number will be higher after a pandemic of a year and a half.
“Everyone deserves a safe place,” Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frye told the group. “Everyone deserves respect. ”
Over the past year, Minneapolis and Hennepin County have invested nearly $ 27 million to expand shelter and street services.
This has provided an additional 200 beds in the shelters, but not everyone wants to use them.
“There were times I chose to sleep outside at the bus stop where I knew it was bright,” says Darrell Warren, who now lives in a Salvation Army shelter.
Warren says he has lived outside of Minneapolis for the past six months after leaving Hibbing. He adds that he had to make the difficult choice of sleeping outside or staying in a shelter, where he could potentially come into contact with other people.
“Sometimes when we do the COVID thing, you know, I was a little leery of staying inside,” he said. “I would like to stay outside. I didn’t know if people were being tested or not.”
During the rally, hot meals and even hairstyles were made available.
There are fears that more people are living outside, even as the weather conditions cooler.
Smith says he tried to help with holiday gifts of cold weather clothes, hand sanitizer, and even money.
“It was pretty brutal,” he said. “We distributed gloves, distributed winter jackets. Some of our people who are homeless today are looking for people to believe in them. They fight. ”
For some, the economy is not a big help.
“I think it’s getting more and more acute because of the economic conditions in the country,” said Dr. Chike Omykaba, who works at a Brooklyn Park health clinic that treats people who are homeless or have drug addiction.
“A lot of people have lost their jobs, a lot of people are stressed out with COVID,” he added. “People are also stressed out so they take drugs. In some cases you are homeless, you don’t have a job.”
Warren says he is lucky to have Zena, his service dog, as a companion and a place to sleep in the Salvation Army.
“She was a great help,” he smiles. “For me to keep my mental health, because I have PTSD and seizures. (Here) I take a shower, I have a meal where they have sandwiches and lunch bags and stuff like that.
Smith says that with all the challenges ahead, he hopes political leaders and the community will be ready to step in.
“A few years ago, George Floyd was here with us, helping feed the homeless,” he recalls. “It is a legacy that we are carrying on. We need to do a better job on our homeless, and it starts now. ”