Standing room only at Dakota County Homeless Forum

Monday night (January 30) Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church in Apple Valley hosted a conversation about homelessness in Dakota County with members of a variety of faith communities, homeless advocates, County staff, elected officials and people experiencing homelessness.  It was heartwarming and overwhelming to see 220 people show up. They were there to learn how to be part of the solution. (Get handout from the event.)

With hundreds in the room, it was a 12 year old girl who livestreamed the event via Facebook. It was a first-time experiment so the quality varies – but you can view it below. (You can also track Tweets from the event.)

The night started with Monica Nilsson, a homeless advocate and consultant, giving a brief history of recent crisis shelter operations and homelessness in Dakota County. The shelter opened during a cold snap in mid-December. It closed the day after Christmas when no temporary site was identified and reopened for another three weeks in January at Easter Lutheran Church in Eagan. In six weeks it housed 78 people. It opened because Dakota County saw the need, especially in the bitter cold weather, and offered funds for the first 4 nights. It opened because local churches were ready, willing and able to donate space, funding and resources (clothing, food, toiletries) and many volunteers. It opened because there were professional staff that were able to support the needs of the guests. And it remained open because of generous donations made by individuals through a GoFundMe campaign.

Then there was a panel of community educators, each had firsthand experience with homelessness. Sasha, Alex, Nick, Elena, Matt, Josh, James and Rick bravely told their stories. Each was well spoken, some had jobs, even while homeless; each had a unique story but there were themes. The first theme – each had just one or two incidents that put them in a vulnerable position. For one it was illness, another was injury, one was separated from her spouse, another suffered from poor and uninformed choices made by her parents. So many people just one step away from homelessness.

Another recurring theme was the difficulty in escaping homelessness. Being without shelter means carrying everything you own – always. Being without shelter means no ready access to a shower or laundry facilities. Being without shelter means you’re always thinking about a roof, warmth, food and how to get clean-even if you have a job. And people treat you differently when you appear homeless. It becomes more difficult to spend hours at the coffee shop or fast food restaurant –  managers will ask you to leave after 30 minutes of sitting.

There was an open discussion about how it felt to be homeless and what attendees could do to help keep people from being homeless and/or help them find homes. What did guests and former guests want? Human interaction and communication. Opportunity! One panelist said she had the money for an apartment but her applications were continually turned down. She just wanted an opportunity. And then there were more basic needs too – clean clothes, a gas card, Cub card…

The meeting lasted 90 minutes and the time flew. There were several policymakers in the room including, Representative Erin Maye Quade, Senator Jim Carlson, Representative Laurie Halverson, Angie Craig, County Commissioner Liz Workman and other elected officials. People left energized, asking what could they do next. The long term plan for Dakota County is a permanent shelter for men and women age 18+.

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 www.homelessindakotacounty.com 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. www.gofundme.com/dakcountyshelter. 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: https://www.gofundme.com/dakcountyshelter

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