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”?