Pioneer Press spreads good news about crisis shelter extension and reports state of suburban homelessness

pioneer-pressThanks to the Pioneer Press for covering the good news at the shelter…

Monica Nilsson was in good spirits Thursday night while her guests were unwinding before bed.

Nilsson, who has been running a traveling cold-weather crisis shelter at four Dakota County churches for more than a month, had just gotten the good news that she and others were hoping for: Money was donated that will keep the operation running another week.

The shelter opened Dec. 15 at Grace Lutheran Church in Apple Valley and was set to close Friday at Easter Lutheran Church in Eagan. On Thursday, several Dakota County churches donated about $9,000 to keep it open until Jan. 27, Nilsson said.

Their story helps shine a light on suburban homeless and public awareness if half the battle; the other half is making shelter a priority in the county…

In Dakota County, the long-term goal is to have a permanent shelter for single men and women up and running by 2018 or sooner, Nilsson said.

Kastler said the county will be at the table with the faith community “to think through financing options both for the actual purchase of a building, for any renovation that is needed and for ongoing services.”

“It’s not something we have in the budget, but it’s something we as county staff feel is important,” she said. “We want to see this service extended in Dakota County.”

Nilsson said she has been encouraged by recent visits to the shelter by elected officials, including county commissioners Tom Egan and Mike Slavik; State Sen. Jim Carlson; State Rep. Erin Maye Quade; and Eagan City Council members Meg Tilley and Gary Hansen.

“When I talk with interested people I want them to have both a sense of urgency that people need help now, but also a sense of hope that people’s conditions change with connections to other people, to health care, to housing,” Nilsson said. “So the question will be: Are we going to leave things like this, or help people?”


Hidden Figures – Find them in Dakota County

hidden-figures-1They will be hard to see, the ones you pass as they make a meal from weekend food samples at Dakota County grocery stores. When you stop to fill the tank, you may not notice the one paying $9 for a shower at McStop on 35w and County Road 70 in Lakeville. She uses the car for more than transportation. You may not realize the backpack a young one carries as you pass by him at Town Centre, the outlets in Eagan or Burnsville Mall is not holding his homework rather his home.

The remarkable new film Hidden Figures, a film which every youth and adult would be lucky to see, tells the story of how, using the mathematical calculations of 3 African American women, NASA supported John Glenn in the space race to become the first American astronaut to orbit the Earth. In how to plan Glenn’s trip, the women were asked not only to look at the numbers but look around them. What creative solution could advance the cause?

A coalition of churches in Dakota County (Dakota County Adult Shelter on Facebook) is asking you not only to look at the numbers but look around them too. In less than a month, more than 60 people have walked through the shelter’s doors. The group has established the same persistence those women had to advance their mission, a stable site to shelter Dakota County’s homeless men, women and youth age 18+. We don’t know what city will lead in saying yes, as a shelter for this group has never been opened in the county. It will be a first. As President Kennedy said at the time, “The greater our knowledge increases, the greater our ignorance unfolds.” You are invited to learn what’s hidden in your community at or by attending a community forum Jan. 30 at Shepherd of the Valley in Eagan, 7-8:30pm.

Yesterday, when the temperature was -9, some found safety and warmth in a simple mat on the floor at Easter Lutheran Church in Eagan. When Pastors Kristen Capel and Brandon Newton said yes to a temporary crisis shelter and members Rhonda Bennett Doran, Laura Backman, Jill Blair, John DeSutter and the congregation embraced the shelter day after day, they exemplified Kennedy’s words that all great and honorable actions are accompanied with great difficulties, and both must be enterprised and overcome with answerable courage. Some did not make it to shelter last night or will face new challenges when the shelter closes Friday due to a lack of stable home and funding. But you won’t see the frostbite of their hidden fingers when you pass by them.

What those 3 brilliant, black women accomplished was very difficult. Not even Kennedy knew of their feat when he stated, “We do these things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone.”

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When listening is the first act of service: Jan 30 in Dakota County

listening-1Community forum on homelessness in Dakota County
Monday, January 30, 2016, 7-8:30pm
Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church
12650 Johnny Cake Ridge Rd, Apple Valley, MN 55124
(952) 432-6351

Discussion with individuals who have experienced homelessness in Dakota County

Can you pick out the homeless people in these photos? Maybe the ones with hoodies or sweatshirts or jeans with holes in them? Maybe the ones who look really tired? Hard to see who is struggling in their head? We have a large number of homeless youth so maybe its the young ones?

Though we have yet to complete our first week of a temporary shelter at Easter on the Lake Lutheran Church in Eagan, we have our largest group since moving through 4 churches in a month: 30 women, men and youth tonight (56 total individuals since we began). 26% of our guests are senior citizens. 15% work at McDonalds. Easter’s roof has sheltered one 18 month old, one honorably discharged veteran and a bevy of people providing you good service at Super America, Taco Bell, the Dollar Store and a nearby hotel. The shelter will close January 20. We will hand people a gas card or Metro Transit card as a shelter plan.

It’s people’s nature to want to act or do something concrete, whether they are homeless or not. It’s harder to be still and listen. However, more than passing dollar bills out your car window or handing plates of food over a table, the first thing we ask is that people sit across the table and listen to each other. Now, more than ever, I think we are going to need to do that in order to advance our communities. We ask that volunteers like Becky Haage, Bruce Anderson and the family of Jarrod and Lisa Beach not clean or sort but engage with those who are homeless or work with them in their community. It’s no surprise that listening to each other produces greater understanding.
On January 30, the Dakota County Adult Shelter coalition will hold a community forum. We will ask people to listen to stories about homelessness that don’t include the words Minneapolis, St. Paul, Chicago or Somalia but Vermillion, East View, County Road 42 and Town Centre. We will discuss how our community is wasting money allowing people to be homeless. The shelter guests have asked if people will be there to listen. Will you be?

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Temporary shelter details

Easter by the Lake in Eagan (4545 Pilot Knob Road- corner of Pilot Knob and Cliff Rd) is hosting a temporary homeless shelter for two weeks that began Friday, January 6 at 5:30pm and closing on Friday, January 20 at 12:00 pm.   The shelter is open to homeless singles and families.

  • The phone number to reach shelter staff at Easter by the Lake is 612-239-8910.  The Dakota County Housing Crisis Line (651)-554-5751 is a resource and will continue to answer calls for persons who are homeless seeking assistance, however a referral by the County is not required.
  • At this time there is no need for items to be donated, such as bedding, etc, or more volunteers thanks to a huge outpouring of support.   We are fortunate there is wonderful volunteer support through Easter Lutheran.   As we work to develop more permanent shelter, there will be more opportunities to help in the future.
  • The biggest need now is financial support to pay for professional shelter staff and technical assistance.    A GoFundMe page set up by Grace Lutheran Church is in operation to accept donations:

Checks can also be written to Minnesota Housing Partnership, a 501c3 with a note for Dakota Shelter.

Blurred lines and bus lines – Dakota Crisis Shelter Open Again

homeless-312+2=40. I’ll explain that in a moment. A coalition of churches in the suburbs has been opening their doors and letting people in. These visitors aren’t sitting in their church home Sunday morning; it’s 3am and they’re sleeping on the floor of their church home Saturday night.

Dakota County reported waiting lists of women, men, young adults and families in need of emergency shelter. With 4 beds for women in the county, zero specifically for youth age 18+, filled shelters for families in Eagan and men in Hastings, there’d been no room in the Inn. Over 12 days at Christmas, churches opened their doors. Then the doors closed. Before closing, we scraped together gas cards for those sleeping in their vehicles and Metro Transit go to cards so people could return to sleeping on buses or the light rail. Sometimes they’re driven by police to Dorothy Day Center across from the Xcel downtown St. Paul. Dorothy Day counted 170 Dakota County residents sheltered in Ramsey County last year.

Then a couple of days ago, Pastor Kristen Capel at Easter Lutheran Church said yes. Open the doors. Two more weeks. Staff Rhonda Bennett Doran and Matt Brokl went into overdrive. Easter is trying to blur the lines between church and community. Now, after 12 nights at Prince of Peace in Burnsville and Grace Lutheran and Spirit of Life in Apple Valley and 2 nights at Easter, 40 babies, teens, fast food employees and senior citizens have been offered an alternative to being alone on a sidewalk downtown St. Paul. The community is in the church.

Closing and reopening churches is hard, though. It means the message has to be spread again on the street that there’s a place to go. A further challenge of the suburbs is they are often created without bus lines to help blur the lines. The closest bus stop to this church home is almost a mile away.

The long term goal of the faith communities and citizen group known as the Dakota County Adult Shelter Coalition is to find a stable home, hopefully by 2018. Within 24 hours at Easter, we had every supply we needed to operate the shelter. By the 2nd night, I was preparing for the closing by asking donors for bus cards and gas cards again.

Easter believes that God is calling them to be filled with such compassion that people are drawn from impossible situations into a community of hope where lives are changed and love is real.

As one homeless youth prepared her bed, we looked up on the wall. Many would wonder how they would thrive in her impossible situation. Before going to bed, she told volunteer (and Pastor of Mount Calvary in Eagan) Jennifer Rome, “It’s nice to be around uplifting people when you don’t feel very uplifted.”

I hope when morning and Sunday school comes, those sitting and learning about compassion feel the warmth under their feet from the bed that was removed from the floor moments before they got there.homeless-1 homeless-2

Minneapolis Star Tribune shares story of Dakota County Crisis Shelter

Thanks to the Minneapolis Star Tribune for their story on the Crisis Shelter, recognizing the work of the participating churches, Dakota County, staff and countless volunteers…

A coalition of Dakota County churches had been meeting for over a year to discuss solutions to local homelessness. When the frigid weather prompted county officials to ask the community for immediate help, Roske-Metcalfe said, several churches stepped up.

Church staff members had never run a temporary shelter, but they got to work, calling restaurants for food donations and volunteers to provide supplies. The county donated $3,000 and covered overnight staffing. Beds came from a Minneapolis nonprofit.

And recognizing the need for awareness of the homelessness in Dakota County…

Many people still doubt homelessness exists in suburbs because they don’t see panhandlers on street corners like in the central cities. Suburban homeless often stay out of sight. The county estimated its homeless population at 63 people in January 2016, based on the number of people county workers found living outside, Nilsson said.

While building and staffing another Dakota County shelter is a far-off goal, the temporary shelter’s success was motivating, Roske-Metcalfe said: “It may turn out to be the kick in the ass that we needed.”

Monica Nilsson on homelessness in Dakota County on WCCO radio at 10:10 pm Thursday Dec 29

Update: You can hear the archive on the WCCO site or download podcast here.

Do you have a warm bed to sleep in every night?

Tonight at 10:10 Monica Nilsson will speaking with Caryn Sullivan and Jordana Green on WCCO about Dakota County residents who were housed at churches during December’s bitter cold.

Here’s a tease from the program from an upcoming Pioneer Press column (thanks Caryn Sullivan!) on the topic.

It wasn’t that there was no place at the inn. It was that there was no inn. When December wrought frightful temperatures and meteorologists warned Minnesotans to limit outdoor tie, Dakota County had virtually nothing to offer single people who needed a warm place to sleep.

Tune in to 830 WCCO! Or check out the conversation on their podcast tomorrow.

Dakota County Crisis Shelter – Sleeping in the fields and barns

food-lineThe Shepherds were from a despised class. It doesn’t mean they weren’t devout men, it’s just that most were the hirelings doing menial work and had unsavory reputations. Without much thought, one might hear the word shepherd and think merely of keepers of their flock or the Good Shepherd or those who traveled far to see a special baby. For others, the Shepherds were seen as rough, uncultured and untrustworthy. They stayed outside, isolated from the townspeople for months at a time.

My family, the Gallaghers and Egans and Slaters, settled in Dakota County in 1855 from Ireland. Their land now holds County Road 42. The Irish were once despised, after the African American, before the Somali or Syrian. As time passed, my family too had men traveling far, coming to the door seeking menial work, asking for a bowl of soup or a place to sleep in the barn outside.

Now, I see those men standing in line again at this temporary shelter at Spirit of Life Presbyterian Church in Apple Valley. They are from a despised class. It doesn’t mean they aren’t devout men, it’s just that they are the hirelings of McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Super America and the Dollar Store. They are seen as untrustworthy by some and stay for months at a time isolated. Their shelter will end with us on Monday; we will re-open when we find a more stable site. They will search for a barn, a truck, a storage unit or a bus Monday night in which to sleep.

Dakota County Crisis Shelter – When Scrooge met ignorance and want

i-existI’m not sure this story is going to have a happy ending. Then I realize a story isn’t just the beginning and the end, there are moments of happiness in the middle too. Just when I wondered what holiday characters I had yet to see operating this pop up crisis shelter for homeless Dakota County residents, after receiving Emmanuel, a pregnant Mary and a teething baby Jesus, in walks Ebenezer-and he was angry. Oy vey, was he angry.

The first thing he asked for? A cane, naturally. You can’t make this stuff up. I had met Mr. Scrooge a few days previous, after receiving a community call about him panhandling outside a Dakota County big box store Saturday. I drove to see if he knew of the shelter and would come inside. Dakota County has minimal street outreach for single adults who are without shelter, (they could use more), and they were not working that day. As I approached Ebenezer, he gave me a sideways glance. The weather was so cold, he’d given up on holding the cardboard and had just hung it around his neck. One arm was dead, he said, lifting it with the other to show me its lack of use. He was as cantankerous as his namesake. Slowly, he got in the car and rode the few blocks to Grace Lutheran Church in Apple Valley with me (happiness). He complained the whole way that nobody helps him. I reflected on Mother Teresa’s words about encountering Jesus in all his distressing disguises rather than the manual on personality disorders. He had a lot of pain, this septuagenarian, Bah Humbug came readily from his mouth. His sign still hung around his neck, Homeless, as if that defined him. He got out of the car to enter the church (happiness).

Then he met ignorance and want, the children of our shelter and A Christmas Carol. His voice softened (happiness). I think he felt deserving or resigned to our simple shelter space but was surprised that children shared it. In the book, Scrooge believes that ignorance and want belong to one person but the Ghost of Christmas Present tells Scrooge that they are all Man’s.

Wretched, frightful, hideous, miserable, ragged, scowling, all words to describe this person who was miserly with his own self-care, his greed of offering kindness, his meanness and any opening for another. But he stayed at our shelter (happiness). While people lack an address, they also lack connection, Scrooge more than most. Often, untreated trauma brings with it a personality disorder that makes treatment increasingly unlikely. As the story goes, “Where angels might have sat, devils lurked and glared out menacing. On his brow, I see that written which is Doom.” And then he got angry at another and left us.

Though this could have been the end of the story, I received a call a few days later. Ebenezer was at Grace Lutheran in Apple Valley looking for me (happiness), but our time was up there and we were now in another city at Prince of Peace in Burnsville. I asked if he wanted me to pick him up. He said nobody helps him. I said he knew where to find me. Then he showed up (happiness), this cold-hearted miser who would appear to despise Christmas in all his suffering. And he stayed. He asked for warm clothes and the ghosts of Christmas present, the volunteers, encircled his want with their ignorance (kindness). He asked for a nurse and she came. He bah humbugged through the entire conversation and when they rose to leave, her ignorance that her patient was Scrooge allowed her to hug him. He lifted the dead limb and returned the hug (happiness). And then he got angry at another and left us.