Category Archives: homelessness

Honor a great women in your life and help women currently experiencing homelessness

Women experiencing homelessness would give anything to:

  • Make coffee in their own kitchen
  • Do their own laundry
  • Sweep Cheerios from the floor
  • Plant tulips near their front door

At the Simpson Women’s Housing Partnership and Simpson Women’s Shelter, we work tirelessly to help homeless women find a safe and permanent place to call home.

If you contribute to these worthy programs by May 3, we’ll send this beautiful gift card to a great woman or mother of your choice, just in time for Mother’s Day.

View gift card

Today, honor the dreams of all women and mothers for a safe place
to call home.

Go here for more details.

25th annual Homeless Memorial was a huge event

The 25th annual Homeless Memorial drew record crowds as people came together to honor and remember members of the community who died while homeless in 2009. Formerly homeless and advocates for the homeless were also remembered.

Over 400 participated in the march and over 700 attended the memorial service. We believe this to be a record attendance. Read a little history on the memorial service:

A history of the Homeless Memorial

Eric was a frequent guest in the early days of the Simpson Men’s Shelter. He was a quiet, somewhat shy Vietnam war veteran and even though he pretty much kept to himself, everyone knew and loved Eric. In the summer of 1984, days had passed since shelter staff and volunteers had seen him. This happened from time to time. No one thought too much of it. A few days later they got the news that Eric’s body had been found by the railroad tracks nearby. He had been beaten to death.

Simpson staff and volunteers had witnessed many people experiencing homelessness who die without anyone honoring their life. Simpson United Methodist’s pastor and shelter staff, volunteers, and Eric’s family members gathered shortly after he was found to honor his life, as well as the lives of a few other people they knew who had died that year. It was an important moment for all, including his family. They were happy to see that he had support and a community in his life. From that point forward, a nearby house that was a transitional home to three men at the time was affectionately referred to by Simpson staff and volunteers as “Eric’s House.”

The Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless (MCH) heard that Simpson had held the service and proposed that it become a larger event, including names of as many people as they could gather. In December of 1984, the first official Minnesota homeless memorial was held, launching the collaboration between Simpson and MCH that exists to this day. Unidentified people began to be included throughout the years, as it was presumed that these people were, quite likely, homeless.

In the early years, the memorial was always held on December 21 (the winter solstice, the beginning of winter, and the longest night of the year) to coincide with the National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day designated by the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH). The event eventually transitioned to be held on the third Thursday in December, as this proved to be the most well-attended night.

The lighting of an individual candle with the reading of each person’s name was a unique aspect of the Minnesota event and has since been replicated by other memorials. In the early years when funding was especially tight, there were plans to re-use candles from one year to the next, but Carla Gainey, Simpson Executive Director from 1987-1997, was adamant that new candles be purchased every year. “Everyone should have their own candle.” This practice continues to this day.

In the mid 1990s, the march was added to the schedule for the evening. The Shelter Providers Action Association (newly formed to help combat funding cuts at a time when homelessness was increasing) began organizing the march portion of the memorial to help raise awareness of the issue of homelessness. It was initially a protest but gently grew into a silent vigil.

Marchers carry individual signs with the name, age, and hometown of every person being honored. One of the first years of the march, a Duluth woman travelled to the service. Her mother was homeless and had been murdered. To see her name on a sign was a moving experience for her. This started a tradition of allowing people to take the signs that displayed the name of a person they knew who had died.

One year, area churches rang their bells just before the service and one year religious leaders signed a Declaration of Human Dignity before the march. For several years, green and purple ribbons were available for people to wear. People were spotted wearing ribbons for months afterwards.

In recent years, the reading of the names has been divided into currently and formerly homeless as more and more people are moving into house.

Simpson Housing donors see the power that one person can have

Clare visits Simpson Housing Services' Bell House

Clare visits Simpson Housing Services' Bell House

A post by Nancy and Clare Bossert

When Clare was younger, she accompanied me to work one Saturday morning.  As we exited the freeway, there was a man standing at the top of the off-ramp.  Clare saw him and asked why he was standing there and what his sign said.  I explained that sometimes people who do not have a job and/or a home would hold up a sign asking people who were driving by to help.

She then wanted to know why we didn’t stop. I am sure it is a dilemma that we have all struggled with at one time or another:  Do we have money in our purses or wallets to share?  Will it be used for drugs or alcohol?  Is it our right to judge?

Clare kept raising the issue in the days and weeks to come.  Coincidentally, there was an article in the newspaper in which several people who stood at highway off-ramps were interviewed.  Their stories of how they came to be there were fascinating, and it struck me that there but for the grace of God go many of us.  I was most impressed with the words of one man, who said that it was okay to not give him any money, but please don’t look away as if he was not there.

As a consequence of Clare’s ongoing interest and the newspaper article, we decided to make “Homeless Kits”.  We started with gallon zipper bags and into each one we put a bottle of water, a new pair of athletic socks, a granola bar, a small box of raisins, a toothbrush and toothpaste, travel size deodorant, lotion, shampoo, and hand sanitizer.

Then Clare got out her “sharing” bank (she has to divide any money she earns or receives into 3 banks – savings, sharing, and spending) and put $2 into each gallon bag.  We then put the kits in the car.

Our first opportunity to hand out a Homeless Kit came a couple of weeks later.  We were going home from visiting a friend in south Minneapolis and I deliberately chose a route that would take us past an area where I had previously seen people holding signs asking for help.  And sure enough, there was a man at the corner.

He had tan, weathered skin and snow white hair, mustache, and beard.  With Clare watching, I opened the window and as he came near, I handed him a bag.  He got a big smile on his face and said, “I don’t even know your names.”  I told him who we were and he told us his name was Bimbo.  He then said “God Bless You”, and we drove away with big smiles all around.  It was a very positive first interaction and Clare was thrilled.

In the last several years, we have since given out many Homeless Kits, all of which have been received gracefully.  We make one addition to the kit in the winter – a polar fleece scarf.

It goes to show that one person can make a difference in this world.  We believe that if just one person is helped by our Homeless Kits, then the effort is worthwhile.  We understand that not everyone is willing or able to make Homeless Kits.  And that is okay.

We simply would say that when you see a person holding a sign asking for help PLEASE DON”T LOOK AWAY.

– Nancy and Clare Bossert

Some facts about family homelessness

Did you know that in 1986 the Aid to Families with Dependent Children Program grant for a family of 4 was $621/month and that Fair Market Rent for a 2-bedroom apartment was $480? Today the same family qualifies for the same $621/month and the same apartment rents for more than $928.

A single parent with two children who makes $21,200 annually can afford to pay $530/month in rent without experiencing a housing–cost burden. There were two 2-bedroom vacancies in Hennepin County with a rent at or below $530 advertised between the months of April and June 2008.

Read the Star Tribune editorial: Counterpoint: Homeless kids at the Drake a symptom, not the disease

Last night while waiting for the meal group to arrive at the shelter, several guests came to the window asking what was for dinner.

One guest came by three times, hoping to know.  It made me think about what a haven the meal groups are providing with chicken and rice, meatloaf and mashed potatoes.  They’re normal, everyday fare and that’s just fine. In fact, it’s wonderful.

Being able to look forward to a relaxing evening meal in the company of others is such a great thing for Simpson’s shelters to be able to provide guests.  I wish people didn’t have to stand in line….I am so grateful for all of the meal groups and for all of our volunteers.

-Barbara G.

The reasons for homelessness number as many as the individuals who are currently experiencing it.

The reasons for homelessness number as many as the individuals who are currently experiencing it.

I remember meeting Clemme a while back. She was staying at the Simpson Housing Women’s Shelter. The night I met her was one of those February days that happen just when you think we’ve turned the corner on winter in Minnesota: minus zero, windy and pitch black. Clemme was curled up on her mat on the floor, devouring a paperback, waiting for dinner. She was of remarkably good cheer.

At the time, Clemme was unemployed, but she had worked much of her life as a printing press operator. Undiagnosed diabetes had sent her into a coma a few years ago. First she lost her job and then her home. Medical bills mounted up. She worked temp jobs whenever she could find them, but it had been tough getting back on track Loss of a job compounded by medical conditions and medical debt can be a significant contributor to homelessness.

Last November, I helped Simpson shelter advocates move Bill into his new apartment in a south Minneapolis high-rise. Bill had been staying at the men’s shelter for a few months, getting up at 4 a.m. to catch two buses to his job as a machine operator and fabricator. He was earning a decent wage, but a family dispute left him suddenly without a place to live. Taking part in the Simpson Savings Program, where shelter guests turn over a portion of their income to Simpson for safekeeping, secured Bill a bed for three months to help him get back on his feet. A change in family circumstance without a friend or relative to help you out is, according to many who work directly with people experiencing homelessness, a common cause. Not too long ago, I got a note from Bill and he is doing great in his apartment with the view of the Minneapolis skyline.

Ray had bounced around the country for much of his adult life, sleeping by creeks so he could take a bath and sometimes in the culvert of a ditch with a board placed over the water. He had found his way to a local shelter and an advocate noticed that he seemed to be depressed quite a bit of the time. A social worker who visited the shelter hooked him up with a psychiatrist who was able to treat his long-undiagnosed depression with medication and therapy. He was housed with the help of the Simpson Single Adult Renal Assistance Program in a studio near the U of M. He now takes yoga classes and is a nursing assistant. I saw Ray around the start of the new year and he looked about ten years younger than I first met him two years ago. Undiagnosed and untreated mental illness is another major contributor.

But what can you do to help? Julie Manworren, Executive Director of Simpson Housing Services and long-time advocate for the homeless community offers the following: “When people have housing and support services, other problems can be overcome. Our community is stronger. We need everyone to talk to their elected officials urging support for state and federal funding for affordable housing and support services,” she says. “The best thing that each of us can do to end homelessness is to do something. Break down the division between “us” and “them.” Make eye contact, say hello, volunteer your time and talents to an agency that is dedicated to serving people experiencing homelessness.”

What happens to my pet if I become homeless?

We have an activity we do with kids when we go out to speak to school, church or civic groups. We pass out a drawing of a backpack and ask the kids, “If you have to leave the place that you call home and all you can take with you is what will fit into a backpack, what would you bring?”

Nine times out of ten, a cat or dog makes the list. Somehow, a pet really reminds us what we all hold near and dear when it comes to having a home of our own. Earlier this summer, Saleha, a Simpson advocate for people experiencing homelessness, wrote about Ray and his cat:

“I took Ray grocery shopping a few times and was always impressed by his meticulous lists: 1 loaf of white sandwich bread, 3 drumsticks from the deli, 2 rolls of toilet paper (whatever’s on sale). For his own needs, Ray was thrifty, but when shopping for Bess his cat, he was a different man. His list would read: 4 bags of kitty litter, 2 boxes Fancy Feast salmon, 2 boxes Fancy Feast chicken, 1 bag dry food (premium), and at the end of every list: 1 cat toy. Ray had been hurt by a lot of people in his life, but he could care for and love Bess, who returned his affection. I believe that love is what allowed him to survive cancer as long as he did.

I was with Ray as he was dying. I rushed him to the emergency room and held his hand as they poked him with needles and strapped a mask over his face. Ray was a fighter. He had been told several times that death was imminent in the past decade and kept proving the doctors wrong. He clung fiercely to his independence and continued to take the bus in the dead of winter when the cold made it almost impossible for him to breathe. Even on his deathbed Ray found the strength to tell me how to take care of Bess. A day later the doctors told me that the tumor in his lungs had spread to his heart – something no one could survive – and they took him off life support.” Bess is currently being cared for by Paws for a Cause.

In the most recent issue of the Humane Society of America’s magazine “All Animals,” Michael Kaminer reports on an ever increasing number of pets showing up in shelters due to families and individuals becoming homeless. High foreclosure rates and rising cost of living are sending people as well as their pets out on the street.

To many individuals, a pet is a member of the family, and as devastating of a loss as their home.