By Lan Freitag
Twin Cities Habitat Staff
On October 22, I volunteered with Wilder Research for their Minnesota Homeless Study. I was in Minneapolis, only a couple blocks from the heart of downtown (near First Ave and Target Center). It’s an area of the city that has several homeless services where people can receive hot meals and short-term shelter.
I interviewed five women, with each interview taking about 45 minutes. I remember speaking with the first woman, and she told me it was important that our interview be completed by 4:00 p.m. so she got get her bed for the night. We were able to complete the interview in a timely manner, and I gathered my notes and handed them in. I was moved into one of the women’s shelters to find my next interviewee. I was standing in the hall as the elevators opened promptly at 4:00 p.m., and a cohort of women came out. I watched as one very focused woman rushed through the hall muttering, “I want my bed, I want my bed. I cleaned it really good this morning, I want my bed”. She popped into the room across from where I stood. Seconds later, she came out with the look of defeat. “I didn’t get it, someone else got it."
I interviewed another four women that night, each with their own unique experience and reasons that attributed to becoming homeless. Most of the women I interviewed were in their 60's and one was in her mid-20's. During the interviews, it struck me that these women didn't necessarily have a common thread in their upbringing -- but each one of them was one event from being homeless. One women was disowned from her family and kicked out of her home at age 16. Another lost a job. One woman's landlord died and she no longer could afford the rental. Most of the women had been staying at that shelter for over a month. Many of them hadn’t talked to any family members for over a month, and felt that they were left home “alone” too young when they were children.
There were over 1,200 volunteers like me conducting 3,700 in-person interviews at 300 shelter locations throughout Minnesota, mostly on the same night. Each survey participant had their own unique perspective after interviewing individuals experiencing homelessness. This in-person survey is conducted every three years, and is an important resource to help understand the causes and circumstances surrounding homelessness. It also helps provide an accurate picture of homelessness for planners, service providers, policy-makers, and the public, and reinforces the need to promote more permanent, affordable housing for all Minnesotans.
Last week, Rebecca shared her perspective on the Homelessness Memorial March, an event that honors those that have died while experiencing homelessness in 2015. Hundreds of community members marched the same steps that many people take in hopes of winning warm shelter and a bed.
As I take my steps out of work around 4:00 p.m. every night, I can't help but think about all the women coming out of the shelter elevator, and wondering whether or not they “got” their bed. It was this volunteer experience that made me reflect about common threads of homelessness, and realize that so many people are just one event away from homelessness. How did it come to be that the Twin Cities is named one of the cleanest, most fit, most philanthropic cities in the nation and yet there are over 14,000 people are experiencing homelessness on any given night? How is possible that an area exists two blocks away from the hustle and bustle of an urban city where there are hundreds of people in survival mode looking for their next meal and a shelter to stay? Through this survey, we may start to understand the answers to these questions. But perhaps the most important question is - what are we going to do about it?
Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity believes in making decent, affordable shelter for all people a matter of conscience, and continues to partner with other local organizations to make an impact for all Minnesotans. Habitat is proud to be a part of Homes for All, an alliance of over 165 organizations that have come together to help advance agendas in support of affordable housing across the state -- and we want YOU to be a part of it!
Next week, we will talk about the upcoming legislative campaign at the Capitol, and how we will need your help to ensure this community, our community, has the resources it needs to create a thriving and vibrant Minnesota.
This post is part of our January Weekly Perspectives series, dedicated to sharing experiences Habitat employees have had learning more about homelessness, how it affects us, and how to effectively take action.