Governor Walz joins mandated survey of unsheltered people – see through his eyes and theirs

Below is Monica Nilsson’s four-part narrative of the 2019 annual mandated (but unfunded) count of unsheltered people in Minnesota. Governor Walz joined the volunteers at the Mall of America Transit center for the count. Here are Monica’s reflections…

The Mouse at the Mall of America

I once visited with a homeless woman who said she is called Mouse. I asked why. She said it was short for anonymous, because that’s what she is. She is surrounded by people all day long but alone all day long.

As Governor Tim Walz, Minnesota Housing Commissioner Jennifer Ho and Met Council Chair Charlie Zelle joined volunteers around Minnesota for the federally mandated count of unsheltered people last night, they contributed to the collective goal to make sure that people are counted-and know that they do. Folks shared their challenges accessing shelter and their fear of living in public. What if the mouse at the Mall of America went to high school in Dakota County and wants to return to work if she can sleep first?

Trading Darkness

While many people focus on not wanting people who are homeless to freeze to death, the reality is that the need for safety, sleep and a toilet is a need we have everyday of the year. For those without shelter or housing, trading the luxury of sleeping in darkness is necessary for the more primal sense of feeling safe first.

As Governor Tim Walz, Commissioner of Minnesota Housing Jennifer Ho and Met Council Chair Charlie Zelle joined the count of unsheltered Minnesotans, they were in the midst of those who most urgently need our help. Sleeping in darkness shouldn’t be aspirational.

There are a lot of people who care

He said it was hard not to get emotional. He was born and raised a Minnesotan. He dabbed a tissue on his eyes and said it’s hard to function without sleep. Then, the man who introduced himself as Tim said, “there are a lot of people who care” proving that it could even include the Governor.

As volunteers gathered and people without shelter or housing and nearby law enforcement shared, Governor Tim Walz, Commissioner Jennifer Ho of Minnesota Housing and Chair Charlie Zelle of the Metropolitan Council were witness to the every night that Minnesotans aren’t seeing. As I like to say, we need a feeling of urgency and hope.

I’ll Keep You Safe

It’s closing time at the Mall of America-the other kind of closing time. The transit center closes at 2am and those without shelter or housing board a bus or train to live in public at a different location. While we find peace in the comfort of our pillow and the heat of loved ones, some will lie down on the concrete of nearby parking garages, others will retreat behind the trees. The bathroom will be available in 2 hours when the center reopens. People with crutches and wheelchairs and their closets on their backs board the last bus and train, everyone homeless at this hour.

Governor Tim Walz joined volunteers conducting the count of unsheltered homeless Minnesotans last night. One person said, “He looks like one of us.” As he, Lt. Governor Peggy Flanagan and our state legislators enter discussion of what’s important, what if action started with everyone thinking, “the first thing I’ll do is I’ll keep you safe”?

11 Snapshots of a cold night on the streets in MN

Thank you to Monica Nilsson for continuing to shine a light on people experiencing homelessness. Last night Monica spent the night documenting life without a home in the Twin Cities. It was 30 degrees below zero last night. While most of us screeched at the thought of running to the car – Monica met people sleeping in train stations, trains and transit stops.

What can you do to help?

  • Please ask your legislator to support the Homes for All Coalition ask of $15 million for the Emergency Services Program this legislative session. The current budget for the entire state is $844,000 for shelter and crisis services. (Find your reps.)
  • Call your elected officials at each level of government, asking how they are a part of making sure that people have access to shelter you around?
  • Donate time or money – find a cause that touches your heart at Volunteer Match or Hands On Twin Cities
  • Contact Monica with any questions or ideas

Here are the stories:

  1. 4:12am Union Depot, St. Paul: overflow shelter at Union Depot in closes
  2. 2:27am Mall of America: The safest place for a lady
  3. 2:30am Mall of America: The apple of your eye
  4. 3:02am Mall of America: Warm thoughts
  5. 4:07am Union Depot, St. Paul: Social worker with a badge and gun
  6. 4:18am Union Depot, St. Paul: The Gray Hairs
  7. 4:19am Union Depot, St. Paul: Minnesota’s workforce
  8. 3:30am Hilton Hotel, Minneapolis: Young, pregnant and schizophrenic
  9. 5:02am Twin Cities Metro Transit light rail: The Winter Carnival Prince
  10. 1:50pm Sunray Shopping Center, St. Paul: The cost of suffering
  11. 5am the floor: No More Heroes

5am the floor – No More Heroes: 11 of 11 snapshots of a cold night on the streets in MN

We have a culture of charity that normalizes destitution and legitimates personal generosity as a response to major social and economic dislocation. Of course, when food, housing and other basic needs become a gift instead of a right, they are subject to all of the prejudices of the generous. The gift can be taken back from those who are not deserving or grateful enough.

-from the book No More Heroes

The story is not the helpers or givers

1:50pm Shopping St. Paul – The cost of suffering: 10 of 11 snapshots of a cold night on the streets in MN

It was hard to get any sleep in the Union Depot on the last night they were open. Cub Foods staff are nice and lets him warm up many days. The cost of being without shelter is not only felt in the heart and mind. His dream is to buy a few acres and build a log cabin.

5:02am Twin Cities Metro Transit light rail – The Winter Carnival Prince: 9 of 11 snapshots of a cold night on the streets in MN

“I was born and raised in St. Paul”, he said with pride. “I was a basketball champ and Winter Carnival Prince.”

I told him not to remove the roof over his head just to talk to me. Even on the trains, it’s cold.

Support emergency shelter for every Minnesotan

3:30am Hilton Hotel, Minneapolis young, pregnant and schizophrenic: 8 of 11 snapshots of a cold night on the streets in MN

I was picking up staff from CBS News at 3:30am at the Hilton next to WCCO in Minneapolis. This young lady was walking down the street seeking warmth. Someone had given her a hotel room key, tempting. She rode with us to St. Paul.
Bootstraps? nope
Family? nope
We have a choice, wrap her like a blanket in help or not.

4:19am Union Depot, St. Paul Minnesota’s workforce: 7 of 11 snapshots of a cold night on the streets in MN

A homeless Amazon worker once told me, “It’s not that you can’t get a job, it’s that you can’t keep one because you keep falling asleep or getting sick.”