25th annual Homeless Memorial Service & March

The 2009 Homeless Memorial March and Service is scheduled for Thursday, December 17. (Please note: this is the correct date.) The event honors those members of our community who died in 2009 while experiencing homelessness.

The puppet who leads the memorial march.Last year’s service honored a record 131 homeless and formerly homeless people, as well as homeless advocates, who died in Minnesota in 2008. On any night in Minnesota, there are at least 1,000 people out on the street. The average life expectancy in America is 77 years. The life expectancy of a person who is homeless is 47 years.

Full event details

A large puppet has led the memorial march for many years. It is a striking, solemn, sad image as it proceeds through the downtown.

Allysen Hoberg of St. Stephen’ s shelter gives a brief  history of the puppet:

Several years ago, Catholic Charities, Salvation Army Harbor Light, Simpson Housing Services, Our Saviors Shelter, St. Stephen’s Shelter, numerous people from Shelter Providers Action Association, representatives from Heart of the Beast Puppet Theatre and other art programs held a conference called “Out of the Shadows” which was specifically designed for people experiencing homelessness.

Hundreds of homeless people attended the event which was held at the parking lot for Secure Waiting and inside Harbor Light.  We created an art car, had break-out learning sessions, homeless people wrote and performed a play about the lottery with Theater of the Oppressed facilitators, and ended the day by listening to a funk band and eating BBQ.

The organizers of the event continued a conversation about changing the way people see homeless people, bringing them “Out of the Shadows” (the theme represented the fact that Currie Avenue is in the shadows of downtown, hidden by a parking ramp, and that so few people even know that each night several hundred homeless people sleep right behind the Target Center).  It translated to the idea that homeless people die often alone and estranged from their families, asleep outside under bridges, and that nighttime is an especially dangerous time for homeless people.  They have to remain hidden because it is illegal to sleep outside.

We wanted to create something solemn reflecting on the “out of the shadows” theme, that also spoke to the cold, the solstice (the day the memorial service sometimes falls on), and the deep sadness our community feels during the memorial walk.

Large paper mache puppets also represent a sort of solidarity movement, culturally connected to Minneapolis, the Heart of the Beast Theatre, etc.  Finally, the moon face on the puppet was given deeper meaning to me because many clients helped build and design it especially for the memorial service and John Luna who probably worked the hardest of any client on the puppet, passed away a few years later.  His last name (Luna) means moon.

– Allysen Hoberg
Shelter Manager, St Stephens Human Services

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Hunger Solutions Minnesota launches the Minnesota Food Helpline

On June 1st of this year, Hunger Solutions Minnesota launched the Minnesota Food Helpline, a toll-free, statewide food resource information and referral call-in line.

Minnesota Food Helpline – is open 8:30-4:30, Monday through Friday. 1-888-711-1151. Multilingual phone assistance is available.

Callers can be screened for Food Support (formerly Food Stamps) eligibility and assisted with completing the application for Food Support.  The line can also assist callers in locating food resources in their own community whether it be a food shelf and or a hot meal site.

In addition, referrals can be made for other public food programs like WIC (Women, Infants and Children), MAC (Mothers and Children) and NAPS (Nutrition Assistance Program for Seniors).

Hunger Solutions Minnesota reports this:
“Here’s why the Minnesota Food Helpline is so necessary in our community:

The Number of People in Need of Food Continues to Grow. Visits to food shelves in the nine-county Metro Area increased 42% year to date in February. On average, food shelves statewide report a 31% increase in usage.

Food Support/Food Stamp Benefits Can Help Feed Families. Food Support provides low income families at risk for hunger with more choices, less stigma, self sufficiency and more consumer power.

The state of Minnesota estimates that only 68% of those that are eligible for Food Support are participating in the program.

Approximately 80% of eligible seniors are not enrolled due to a variety of barriers and misconceptions about eligibility.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, $5 in new Food Support benefits generates $9.20 in total community spending.

We want to be a resource to all Minnesotans at risk of experiencing hunger and the professionals that work with them.  No one in Minnesota should go hungry.  At the Minnesota Food Helpline, we work with callers to find both short and long-term solutions. “

Help needed in the summer too

We are fortunate to have so many supporters of Simpson on deck, ready to help ease the pains of homelessness in the people we serve.

Summer is a wonderful time to volunteer in our shelters. Contrary to the song, the living ain’t always easy, and you can make a world of difference to someone who is going through a transition in their life. Helping another person takes no season.

We are looking for volunteers to buy, prepare and serve dinner in the men’s shelter on August 14, 16 and 22. It’s a pretty great opportunity and volunteers always report that they get as much out of it as the people that they served.

Email Barbara at bglaser@simpsonhousing.org for details.

Details here.

Kids at Valleyfair today

The kids from the Family Housing program are at Valleyfair today for an Attendance Reward outing. Anyone who had 95% or above attendance is out having a ball, and there are a lot of them.

Our Education Support Advocates dedicate their work to making sure that the kids in the program succeed in school, beginning with making sure they get to school. Volunteer tutors help the kids maintain their grade level in reading and monthly workshops help parents become involved in their education.

Last month the summer barbeque gave everyone a chanceto gather for fun and games. Take a look at the slideshow. It’s pretty fun.

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

Testifying at the capitol

Linda testified this week at the capitol. This is her powerful testimony:

Linda B., Representative Jeff Hayden and Simpson Housing Executive Director Julie Manworren

Linda B., Representative Jeff Hayden and Simpson Housing Executive Director Julie Manworren

Thank you Madame Chair and Members. My name is Linda Buechner, and I would like to share my experience of working with the Family Roots Alliance, which is funded by the state’s long-term homeless supportive services fund. If it wasn’t for the services that Family Roots Alliance provides, my family and I wouldn’t be where we are today.

I grew up in St. Paul, MN, and now live in Minneapolis. I have 3 children—2 boys and a girl. Before I became involved with Family Roots Alliance, I had been homeless for 9 out of the past 13 years. I was able to get various apartments, but would lose them after about 3 weeks because I wouldn’t pay the next month’s rent. My kids were bounced from school to school, and didn’t have any stability. I was chemically dependent, with my drug of choice being crack cocaine. I was addicted for 10 years, and thought that because I never did drugs in front of my kids that they didn’t know about my addiction—turns out they knew the entire time. I had been in denial for a long time. I was more focused on partying than being a parent.

In December of 2005, I was arrested and spent a little over 3 months in jail. During this time, my boys were staying with my brother Ron, and my daughter was put in foster care. After my jail time, I went to chemical dependency treatment, and then stayed with a friend. I entered a halfway house, but then left early to stay with my sister. I lived with my sister for a short time, and then left to go to a shelter in Minneapolis—my sister’s lease was being jeopardized by my staying there. It took me a while to realize that the only way that I could get help was to reach out for help and work on myself. I didn’t want to “stoop so low,” as I thought then, to have to stay at a shelter, but I had no choice. I took one of my sons with me—the other son stayed with my relative, and my daughter was still in foster care.

Being homeless is scary. My son and I almost didn’t make it to the shelter by close one night, and almost had to spend the night outside. My son was 10 at the time, and was very afraid. It’s hard to put a child through that.

In January of 2007, I was referred to the Family Roots Alliance. They helped me to find an apartment in less than 2 weeks. My son that had been with me in shelter lived there right away, and my other son was able to come home by the end of that month. My daughter was still in foster care, and she was able to come home in June of 2007. The judge was amazed at everything I’d accomplished in less than 6 months—accomplishments that I couldn’t have done without the support of the Family Roots Alliance program. Making changes in your life is hard work. They supported me, but I was the one who had to change. The staff provide support for me and my kids—they don’t just put us in housing and forget about us. Travis, my educational support advocate, was able to help find a school that is a good fit for my kids. My advocates help out with bus fare for school, and with school supplies. My kids now have more one on one time with their teachers, and are learning to control their emotions. Family Roots Alliance also has a Teen Group, and put on different activities that my kids look forward to. They helped my family to be “adopted” so that we could get assistance with Christmas gifts.

Today, I have been sober for over 3 years. I can talk about it with my kids now, but it was a hard transition. My kids weren’t used to a “sober mom,” and had to get used to the adjustment. The advocates at Family Roots Alliance are helping me with my parenting skills, and with helping my kids learn responsibility. When I was using, I would give my kids whatever they wanted—I didn’t know how to manage my priorities and responsibilities, and therefore definitely didn’t have a way to teach my kids about responsibility. My family advocate, Lee, helped me to come up with a system to help me and my kids budget.

I want to get to the point where I can help homeless people that are in the situation I used to be in. I want to let folks know that it’s hard to be homeless, but help is out there—don’t be ashamed to ask. I look forward to opening the blinds every morning—I love my new life. When I was addicted and homeless, I didn’t realize my responsibilities—now, with the help of my advocates, I do. I don’t want my kids to make the same mistakes I did. There have been times in my life, even while in this program, that I was ready to give up—if it wasn’t for the Family Roots Alliance staff, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I always try to find a way to work out issues on my own first, but I know that my advocates are only a phone call away. My testimony today isn’t just for myself—it’s for everybody out there who needs a hand up. I hope that my story helps bring about the opportunity for others who were in my situation to turn their lives around, too.

Thank you for listening, and for this opportunity.

Linda Buechner.

Time magazine reports: nearly 1 in 10 children attending public school in Minneapolis is homeless.

In a March 12 article, Time magazine reported that nearly 1 in 10 children attending public school in Minneapolis is homeless. According to preliminary figures, districts are reporting nearly 16% more homeless students in the 2007-08 academic year than in the previous year. Read the full article.

Every school district in the United States has a liaison for homeless and highly mobile students, Elizabeth Hinz is the Minneapolis Public Schools liaison. The Minneapolis school district provides each child a new backpack full of grade appropriate school supplies (paid for by private donations and federal funding). An effort is made to make sure the backpacks aren’t the throw-away kind. “We don’t want backpacks that look like they came from a shelter,” says Hinz, as quoted in the article.

Last year, Simpson family housing programs served 622 children throughout the Twin Cities Metro area. Every school-aged child is assigned an Education Support Advocate (ESA) to help them succeed in school. On an lighter note, advocates report that they do not see a lot of the children in the program bearing the stigma of being homeless or highly mobile.

“I see parents protecting their children from knowing that they are homeless,” says Jean Lloyd, ESA. “Sometimes a child won’t want me to see them at school, but that is usually not the case. I remember one little girl proudly saying out loud ‘This is my advocate!’” Rachel Kuehl, ESA says. Read about a day in the life of a Simpson Education Support Advocate.