Tag Archives: homelessness

Runners unite to help people experiencing homelessness

If you run, you can help raise funds to help people experiencing homelessness. A group of runners and Simpson supporters are leading the cause.

Whatever race you choose to participate in 2010, do so on behalf of the homeless served by Simpson Housing Services. The Simpson Housing Run is a fundraising campaign to support you in raising money to end homelessness in the Twin Cities.

Go to www.simpsonhousingrun.org for more info.


Monica Nilsson was the speaker at the 25th annual Homeless Memorial

Monica Nilsson

Monica Nilsson was the speaker at the 25th annual Homeless Memorial.

Monica walked into Simpson Housing Services Shelter late one night in 1994 for her first shift as an overnight volunteer and couldn’t believe that there were rows and rows of sleeping human beings on foam mats at her feet. She spent many more nights at Simpson as a staff member and later opened the Simpson Women’s Shelter in 1999 before leaving in 2004 to go to The Bridge, a sanctuary for runaway and homeless youth.

In 2007, she joined Hearth Connection, working with providers serving long-term homeless families, singles and youth in Duluth, the Iron Range and on reservations. Currently, Monica serves as Director of Street Outreach for St. Stephen’s Human Services, working primarily with people who are sleeping outside. She is also Board President of the Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless, a coalition of 150 organizations serving those who are currently experiencing homelessness.

Read Monica’s talk from the service:


For those of you who have never been here, welcome to our little town near the big city.  We settled here 25 years ago when we didn’t belong anywhere else.  We needed a place to do what our ancestors did: rest after a hard day, eat, visit, comfort the sick, bury the dead.  Despite our differences, we came from people who farmed the land: the Natives, the Irish, the African American-some who did so to survive, some because they were the commodity traded.  But what our ancestors taught us is that while tough times don’t last, tough people do.  And some came to our little town during their tough time: for a week or a month or a very long time. And despite the community’s wishes, some people died here.

The Natives taught us to recognize our people in the four stages of life:  the babies, the youth, the adults, the elders.  Wendy was alone here, so she became part of our extended family; someone had to watch out for her, naturally, and if you’ve known love, you give some back.  John and Adam didn’t make it to town much, they lived on the outskirts, so some of the townspeople made home visits, to the woods.  Patrick didn’t feel well – but in our town everyone can see the doctor-or sometimes she’s a kind nurse-but despite the community’s wishes, some people still died.  Sometimes it’s their spirit that’s broken-and the townspeople were too busy needing to convince the politicians or the bank to spend time visiting with the lonely.

Every year, there are new people here: some of you arrived with everything you need; some of you came off the road with nothing.  No one is bothered that Brian sits in the public square all day-because in our little town nobody has to hold a sign that says, “I need help”.  We can see who does because we take the time to stop and look each other in the eye.

Some of those who founded this town have passed on but they left us with valuable lessons: Mary acted kind of crazy…but she taught us to accept people as they are; we all knew that one day we might be the one who acts kind of crazy and we want to belong too.  There were those who took to the drink or the pipe. They belong here too.  We thought we knew who the needy were because we could see theirs but guess what? They can see ours too. They see who needs a break, who needs a good laugh, which of us needs to swallow our pride and ask for help.  Our town strives to have someone available when someone needs to vent, needs to feel like they’re contributing or just needs someone to listen to them and not say a word.  We all need a soft place to land.  Sometimes that soft place is an address, sometimes it’s a person.  So, we all need to tell people they’re special before they’re gone.

And everyone needs to feel protected, defended. So the strong would do so: at home, in the community or far, far away. Some protected family or strangers or country.  Most who went far away came back healthy, to love and purpose, maybe even a parade. Some came home and the next battle began.  And despite the community’s wishes, some still died.

And so once a year, our town holds its own parade with banners and signs- but this one is at night-and no one lines the sidewalks to watch-because the whole town is marching down main street.  If not, they are back at the church getting supper ready – not dinner but supper, we’re a small town after all.  Others are creating sanctuary.

You see, at least once a year everyone gathers to pray: the Jews, the Christians, the Muslims, even a Mennonite.  There are the spiritual who wonder why there are so many religions. They don’t claim one… but they still have the faith. It’s said that religion without right action is anathema to God.  Our little town is faith…in action.

Our little town doesn’t have a newspaper so we don’t have obituaries, so, we rely on the ones who remember the stories and re-tell them to keep the deceased present.

Before I go, I have to tell you that I won’t be seeing you at the 50th anniversary of the founding of our little town.  You see, in 25 years, the babies will live in a place where they watch candles shine…on their birthday cakes at their own kitchen tables.  Youth will set fire…to bottle rockets and sparklers in their own backyards.  Adults will look each other in the eye by the glow of candlelight in friendship or romance across their own living rooms.  And elders will settle in for the night – not on dirt or a mat on the floor but in their own bedrooms, where they’re not afraid to fall asleep, and the glimmer of a single candle will provide peace and calm from the nightstand.  No, we won’t be seeing each other at the 50th anniversary because in 25 years, this little place will be a ghost town.

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

10 ways to help a person experiencing homelessness

1. Don’t look away. If you notice someone who appears to be in need of a smile, give them one. If you are unable or don’t want to give someone with a sign any money, give them a friendly look and a silent blessing. It’s that simple. I have also heard of people keeping granola bars in their glove compartment to hand out at intersections.

2. Cook and serve a meal at a shelter. You’re giving a lot more than just meat and potatoes. It’s about creating community for people who may feel disenfranchised and disconnected. Diners will enjoy and be thankful for your food, but most of all, they will remember that you took the time to care.  Read more.

3. Save the little bottles of toiletries from hotels and donate them to a shelter. It feels good to use your own shampoo or lotion, even when you have to share a shower. When you have to spend all day on your feet, it’s nice to be able to freshen up in a library restroom or park. Some people think that people experiencing homelessness don’t care about their appearance, but this is not what we see. Basic human pride is present at all economic levels.

4. Read to a child. Create art with them. Encourage them. Praise them. Love them. Challenge them. If you witness a child falling behind in school, investigate what you can do. Generational poverty is a huge factor contributing to the cycle of homelessness in families and education is one sure way of breaking it. You can even volunteer your time as a tutor.

5. Gather gloves, mittens, long underwear and scarves. The warmer the variety, the better. Donate these to a shelter or housing program or simply carry them around in your car and hand them out when you see someone who needs one.

6. Remember that homelessness doesn’t go away when the weather warms up. A need for blankets is replaced by a need for clean socks and t-shirts in the summer. Typically, volunteerism in the shelters goes down in the summer, so it is a great opportunity to get your feet wet. The Simpson Men’s Shelter is staffed every night of the year by volunteers (men and women). It was voted by City Pages as “The Best Way to Cleanse Your Soul.” Overnight volunteers make an incredible difference in the lives of people experiencing homelessness and are quite often the highlight of someone’s day. Try it. You’ll like it.

7. Adopt a family at holiday time. Also, remember single adults when dispensing holiday cheer. Shelters take gifts of bus cards, gift cards, gloves, anything portable that you could imagine wanting.

8. Talk to people about the issue. Brainstorm ways to help out. Join forces in your church, school, community, or neighborhood. Alone you can make a big difference. Together we can make lasting change.

9. Don’t be discouraged by what could seem to be an enormous problem. Experts in the field believe that this problem is eventually fixable. Counties and cities have stepped up with definitive plans to end homelessness in 10 years.

10. Contact your legislator. Let them know that you feel strongly that now, more than ever when the need for these services is great, that we do not cut services to people experiencing homelessness. For more ideas of how to advocate and to find out your legislator, go to the Simpson advocacy page.

Last night we attended the 24th Annual Homeless Memorial Service at Simpson United Methodist Church in Minneapolis.

This is a powerful event,  honoring homeless who have died on the streets in Minnesota in the previous year.  Last night’s memorial was no exception.

Over the years, I’ve done a number of the walks preceding the
event, and last night I did as well.  The walk of 26 or so city blocks in
decent, but ordinarily cold weather is an effort to call attention to the homeless.

Those walking the route, which includes the Nicollet Mall, carry
simple white wooden signs, each with the name and age of one homeless person who died last year. The walk is a silent vigil.

A speaker said that the average age of homeless who die on the streets is about 43 (73 for the rest of us).  The youngest remembered yesterday was “Unknown baby girl, 1, Minneapolis”.  The oldest, James Schichel, 79, St. Paul.  There were about 60 on the list last night, plus a similar size list of “Formerly Homeless”, and six “Advocates”.

Dr. John Song of the U of M Medical School gave a brief but very
moving talk, reading real comments of homeless folks who feared for what would happen to their bodies when they died.  It is no surprise: they are just like us in so many ways.  They just happen to be homeless.

Last night, as they were reading the names and lighting a candle
for each who had died, the name “Greg Horan, 60, St. Paul”,  jumped out at me.

I knew Greg.  At his death he was listed as an Advocate for the
Homeless; when I met him, strictly by coincidence, he was not too manyyears off the street, living in a room in St. Paul.  Until I read his age, I had no idea how old he was.

It was maybe a dozen years ago that I met him.

I was with a group that had been to a St. Paul Saints game, and
afterwards was walking to where my car was parked.  As I was walking I struck up a conversation with a big guy next to me, in the pack.  He asked if I could give him a ride home, rather than waiting for the bus. “Sure”, I said, a little unsurely.  It was late, and it could be a long wait for a city bus on Snelling Avenue.

It was obvious from our conversation that Greg was an educated
guy.  I think the topic of homeless came up during the ride at some point. He talked about a periodical he had been publishing for and by street people, and I asked if I could have a copy.  At his home, an otherwise nondescript St. Paul neighborhood house in which he had a room, he went in and grabbed a handful of the newsletters, which turned out to be very remarkable publications, full of stories, poetry and art by street people.

I kept them for a long while, but ultimately gave them to a Native
American author I know who used to be on this list, but now no longer has a computer and lives in rural Deer River MN and (I’ve learned since) has a passion for Elvis Presley!  (Her recently received Christmas card featured Elvis this year.)  She went through Greg’s periodicals, and found some literature or art by someone she knew.  I’m going to write her and see if, by some wild chance, she still has the newsletters.

Greg and I were more or less in each others lives for awhile.  He
didn’t seem to have a phone or a computer or even a reliable address, so it was almost impossible to stay in touch, and I didn’t wander in his circles.  Serious cancer entered his life.  The last time I saw him, as I told the mostly filled church last night, was at that very service, perhaps three years earlier.

The guy immediately ahead of me read a truly incredible piece of
Greg’s writing, about life on the St. Paul streets.  I hope I can get a
copy and share it with you. (Read here)

In our few visits, I picked up pieces about Greg’s life: growing
up in the hardscrabble anthracite mining country in Pennsylvania;
developing a talent for writing, moving up rapidly in the big city
publishing world on the east coast, until a series of catastrophes ended with his being flat broke and a street person at the Union Gospel Mission in Minnesota.

Greg had every reason to say “the hell with it” but he hung in
there, apparently advocating to his death for the community he had never planned to be part of.

As I once heard a minister eulogize someone else I knew, who’d
died in a car crash, and contributed mightily to his passion, Greg “lived before he died, and died before he was finished.”  Not too bad a legacy.

As I write I keep thinking of two of those endless sayings that
float through my head: “There but for the grace of God go I”; “Don’t judge a book by its cover”.

-Dick Bernard

Increases is the numbers we serve

For single adults in our shelters we have definitely seen an increase in numbers. The number at our weekly lottery has been steadily increasing. As of the end of the 3rd quarter we had served almost the same number of people in both our shelters as we had in all in 2007. The most significant things we have noticed about the population, is that some of the people we’ve helped move into housing are coming back after job losses. When the economy struggles, often the folks we serve are the first to lose their jobs, or have a harder time finding work. Also, our shelter director, Brian, says that he’s been seeing a lot more folks that are homeless for the first time ever coming to the lottery.

As far as families, we have seen a huge increase in shelter use in the past year. The number of families we turn away from our housing programs continues to vary between 50 and 70 families each week. We have experienced an increase in Native American and Latino families, and an increase in large families (families with more than 4 children). Initially we saw a lot of families who were renters whose landlords had lost their property to foreclosure thus making the family lose housing; however, lately we’ve had more families call who were homeowners that have been foreclosed upon.

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.”