“We are calling for an end to homelessness everywhere,” said Smith. “We urge our governor to invest more resources in housing our people – that’s why we are here today.”
Smith is part of a group of lawyers, political leaders and activists who met outside the Salvation Army animal shelter on Currie Avenue in Minneapolis on Saturday to raise awareness for National Homeless Day.
Experts say around 1,000 people are homeless in the Twin Cities, but fear the number will be higher after a year and a half pandemic.
“Everyone deserves a safe place,” Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frye told the group. “Everyone deserves respect.”
In the past year, Minneapolis and Hennepin County invested nearly $ 27 million in building emergency shelters and road services.
That helped create 200 extra sleeping spaces, but not everyone wants to use them.
“There were times when I chose to sleep outside at the bus stop where I knew it was light,” says Darrell Warren, who now lives at a Salvation Army shelter.
Warren says he has lived outdoors in Minneapolis on several occasions for the past six months after moving from Hibbing. He adds that he had to make the tough decision of sleeping outside or staying in a shelter where he could potentially make contact with other people.
“Sometimes when we do the COVID thing, I was kind of suspicious of staying inside,” he said. “I would want to stay outside. I didn’t know whether the people were being tested or not. “
Hot meals and even haircuts were provided during the meeting.
There are concerns that more people might be living outside even as weather conditions get colder.
Smith says he tried to help with cold weather Christmas gifts, hand sanitizer, and even cash.
“It was pretty brutal,” he said. “We distributed gloves and winter jackets. Some of our people who are homeless today are looking for people who believe in them. They fight.”
For some, the economy isn’t much of a help.
“I think it’s getting more acute due to the economic conditions in the country,” said Dr. Chike Omykaba, who works at a Brooklyn Park health clinic that treats the homeless or substance abuse.
“Lots of people have lost their jobs, lots of people are stressed from COVID,” he added. “People are also stressed and take drugs. In some cases, you are homeless, you don’t have a job. “
Warren says he’s lucky to have Zena, his service dog, as a companion and sleeping place with the Salvation Army.
“She was a good help,” he smiles. “For me to maintain my psychological situation because I have PTSD and seizures. (Here) I shower, eat sandwiches and packed lunches and such. ”
Smith says that with all the challenges ahead, he hopes that political leaders and the community are ready to reinforce themselves.
“George Floyd was here with us a few years ago helping to feed the homeless,” he recalls. “This is a legacy that we carry on. We have to deal better with our homeless, and that starts now. ”