Category Archives: simpson housing

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.


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.

So where does a person experiencing homelessness put their belongings during the day?

This is a common question…and a really good one. Imagine finding out that you needed to leave your home and everything that you could bring needed to fit into a backpack that you would then carry around with you throughout your day.

Cynthia, who is now housed through the Simpson Single Adult Rental Assistance (SARA) Program, spoke about this: “I never slept under a bridge, but I do remember sleeping on a porch of an abandoned house in south Minneapolis and hiding my stuff in the bushes. Once I woke up and everything was gone; it had been stolen. It was bad, but I didn’t have it as bad as some. I’m so thankful that I found the Simpson Women’s Shelter. It was a place to sleep, to call home, but it was also a place to put my things during the day.

Earlier this week we received a call from a man who was desperately hoping to win a bed at the upcoming lottery at the men’s shelter. His first question, even before he asked where he was going to sleep? “Where am I going to put my stuff during the day?” He had recently gotten a job and didn’t want to bring all of his belongings into his new workplace. It’s a dilemmna.

The Twin Cities Homeless Locker Project is helping. Architecture for Humanity Minnesota (AFH MN), a chapter of Architecture for Humanity International (AFH), is a group of local designers who volunteer their time and talents to provide architectural solutions to humanitarian crisis and bring design services to communities in need. Since its founding in January 2005, AFH MN has provided design services for community centers, schools, and a memorial garden in Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Uganda, and Minnesota.
For the first time, AFH MN is taking on its own design-build project, the Twin Cities Homeless Locker Project, to address the needs of homeless individuals to have a secure storage location for personal belongings that they can access as needed. AFH MN and The American Institute of Architects Minnesota Housing Advocacy Committee teamed up through the Search for Shelter workshop in February 2008 to design the lockers. The first site in the Twin Cities for the installation of 20-30 lockers will be at Simpson Housing Services in Minneapolis.

AFH MN is now raising funds to build this set of lockers and for a second set in a future location in St. Paul. Members of AFH MN will join homeless individuals to build and install the lockers at Simpson this fall. They are asking for your contribution to this well-needed local project through sponsorship of one locker ($100), attending our fundraiser ($10 at door), or a general contribution of any amount. We look forward to seeing you on September 12th at the Bedlam Theatre for an evening of music, a silent auction, and drinks/conversation with people making a difference in our community!

Donations will be channeled through AFH, a 501(c)(3). All contributions are tax-deductible in accordance with IRS regulations. Please make checks payable to Architecture for Humanity and send them to: Jeffrey Swainhart, 4136 Longfellow Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55407.
For more information about AFH MN and the fundraiser:
For more information about AFH:

It’s likely you encounter a person experiencing homelessness multiple times throughout your day and don’t even realize it.

It could be the tired-looking woman bagging your groceries or the twenty-something making your Big Mac. Maybe it’s the man holding the furniture liquidation sign at the intersection near the mall. It may or may not be the tired soul standing at the exit ramp who is “absolutely desperate.”

A few statistics: According to the 2006 Wilder Research study, an average of 28% of homeless people are working. 36% of adults in transitional housing (vs. staying in a shelter or under a bridge or in a car) are working. Of those punching the clock full-time, 64% earned under $10 an hour. According to, the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in the Twin Cities is $842. At $10 an hour (before taxes), over half of a person’s income would go to a one-bedroom. Financial advisors generally tell us that one third of our income should go towards our housing.

“In 2007, the families who entered our transitional housing program had an average income of $692 per month,” says Wendy Wiegmann, Simpson Housing Director of Programs. “It is safe to say that without rental assistance, these families would still be living in a shelter.” Then there is the challenge of landing the apartment. If you find yourself unemployed and without a home, you usually can’t get one without the other. Upfront costs to finding a place can be a major roadblock, often equaling at least the first month’s rent. Even an application fee can be too much for many. Poor or no rental history are also strikes against you.

“I am currently working with a man who is employed as a financial planner,” says Amy Stroman, a Rapid Exit Advocate with Simpson Housing. Rapid Exit is a program that works at expediting the process of moving men and women from the shelter to permanent housing. “Although he is working and making around $18,000 a year, he has almost 20 U.D.s on his record, although most of them are being expunged. (A U.D. or unlawful detainer is filed with the county by the landlord and can lead to an eviction.) Landlords are understandably wary when they see this kind of rental history. But many are also willing to give someone a chance if they can see a reason for a new, positive change in behavior, such as treatment for drug or alcohol problem. This is the case with this particular client.”

People experiencing homelessness are not just under bridges or in distant shanty towns. They are living, working and trying to find their way alongside you and me in the community.

Families bond on Simpson Housing Services camping trip

Camping Kids on the Simpson Family Housing Camping trip

Camping Kids on the Simpson Family Housing Camping trip

On the last weekend of June, Simpson’s Family Housing program held its annual family camping outing to Camp Kingswood in Mound, Minnesota. We had a record number of participants in attendance: 13 adults and 29 children! The trip to Kingswood is a short, but energy-packed one. Beginning on a Saturday morning and ending early Sunday, it may lack in time, but certainly not in wonderful experiences for all.

While at Kingswood, parents and children have the opportunity to swim in the lake, participate in a high ropes course, play basketball and volleyball, hang out in the lodge for arts and crafts, board games and puzzles. In the evening children play hopskotch and blow bubbles outside and then participate in relay races as parents and staff cheer them on. At dusk we always have a bonfire and s’mores, which are always a big hit.

Outside of the activities, the best part about family camping is the opportunity to see and hear how much the parents and the children enjoy the outing. One thing that really stood out for me this year was the fact that the parents and the children really appeared to bond with one another while we were away. Parents shared experiences with one another and the children really seemed to connect with one another. Older children looked out for the younger children and the younger children enjoyed each others company. It truly was a pleasure to see this take place. It makes all the details of planning and organizing this event worth every single second.