Sam had stayed with us at the Simpson Men’s Shelter for a night here and there over the last few years, but won a 28-day bed in February of 2009. “When you don’t have to worry about where you’re going to sleep, eat, and shower each night, it allows you to focus on some other things. Knowing where you’re going to sleep each night gives you some peace of mind. It makes you feel like you belong somewhere,” he said.
As I worked with him as his advocate and got to know him better, we had numerous conversations about what had happened in his life and how he’d gotten here. Sam is intelligent and charismatic, but he had struggled to keep jobs and healthy relationships in his life. While he was staying at the shelter, he visited the jobs room at St. Stephen’s (a resource for job seekers experiencing homelessness) and put together an amazingly complete work history dating back to when he was eighteen years old.
Sam said to me that he knew that more than bad luck was playing a role in his relationships with employers and loved ones and that he suspected there was “something underneath” that he needed to address.
Sam enrolled in a local mental health group as we helped him look for housing programs that focused on helping support his efforts to address his mental and emotional health. Although he was proud of having worked all of his life, he came to the conclusion that the work he needed to do now was “on himself.”
Today, Sam is housed through the Spectrum Homeless Project that works to house people currently experiencing homelessness and holistically address their mental health concerns. Sam has also returned to the work force and is working at getting closer to his son. During the time he spent at Simpson, Sam made some challenging and positive decisions to shift gears in his life and focus on breaking the cycle that he’d repeated in the past.
-Robert Hofmann, Simpson Shelter Advocate
PHOTO, above right: Robert, left and Sam, right.
Steve Carlson, Program Director of the Spectrum Homeless Project says this about Sam:
Sam has set his mark high with regard to success and he somehow, in spite of set-backs, keeps on seeking his goals. Currently Sam is working a job where he has to take the light-rail to the Mall of America, a bus from there across Bloomington, and the last several blocks he rides his bike. At shift’s end, well past the time the final bus has rolled by, Sam rides his bike all the way back to the mall to catch the light rail, a trip that takes a good hour. That to me is a reflection of his passion, drive, and commitment to his own success.
Josephine reaches out: This former shelter guest stays close to her friends who are still on the streets
Josephine is a 61 year-old mother and grandmother, and not only to her own children and grandchildren. Josie, as she is called, is also known as mother and grandmother to the many women who are out on the streets – women she grew close to while she herself was homeless. “The homeless community is like a family. We help each other,” she says.
Josie, a former Simpson Women’s Shelter guest and one of the first participants in the newly formed Women’s Housing Partnership (WHP), has been in her St. Paul apartment for six months. She loves her clean, bright one-bedroom, but she does admit: “I sometimes miss my friends and the staff at the shelter.” Women who are going through challenging times together become very close. When she is not working at her job as a Personal Care Assistant, Josie spends much of her day checking on her friends who are still without a permanent place to call home.
Sadly and ironically, the day that Josie moved into her apartment last fall, one of her close friends who was still on the streets, Christina, died. Christina had battled a drinking problem for a long time. “I got off the bus that morning and saw her. She had spent the night in Loring Park and was in bad shape. I told her to go to the Simpson shelter that night and I would try to meet her there, and I left to go to an appointment. I heard later in the day that she had died.”
Josie talks about how hard life on the street is and about how vulnerable women are. “Many women stay in abusive relationships or move in with men, thinking they will be safe, but they’re not. Many are suffering from mental illness or are sick. They need a safe space to get better.”
“So many of these women have no one. They feel like no one cares. They need something to live for. I am fortunate. I have gardening, my volunteering and my 13 year-old granddaughter.” Since its inception last fall, the WHP program has been working to help frequent guests from the women’s shelter not only find a permanent place to call home, but also to find whatever it will take to help them keep their housing. “I tell my friends to not give up and to not be afraid to ask for help.”
When I lost my job in Anoka and I ended up in a shelter, Mary Gallini let me know about her program helping the homeless get housing.
I also got help with my mental illness. Actually, I got help with everything: food, housewares, sometimes bills. My advocates comes to see me once a week to see how I'm doing and to see if they can help.
Now I'm doing great. I'm in nursing school and I'm going to love doing good for others. The difference in the way that I feel is incredible.
Thanks to everyone for the help.
Ron talks about his time on the streets and how things are going for him now
This is easier to do now that she has her own bed to wake up in every morning. Being a morning person comes in handy during her shift tending the breakfast bar at a Comfort Inn in a Minneapolis suburb. Most likely, the hotel guests that love chatting with her have no idea that she was recently homeless. Life is good right now. She has been settled in her north Minneapolis apartment for four months and work is going well.
Flash back thirty or so years: Geraldine and her husband were raising their son in their south Minneapolis home that they were enjoying remodeling. Geraldine worked as a hair dresser for many years, and then took a turn at an administrative job for Hennepin County. Life threw her a curve ball when her husband was diagnosed with M.S. and she also lost her job with the county. Years passed by and Geraldine found herself alone. She inherited her father’s house (and its mortgage) near Minnehaha Falls and was working at Marshall Field’s. When Marshall Field’s was sold, Geraldine lost her job, and not long after, her house was foreclosed upon.
The buzz around town was that there were jobs to be had in Branson, Missouri. Geraldine (who has always been open to new opportunities) decided to give it a try. Unfortunately, when she got there, the area’s economy was experiencing the same downturn that was happening everywhere and Geraldine was not able to find work. Geraldine moved back to Minneapolis, but was without a place to live.
Thanks to both the Simpson Women’s Shelter and Our Saviour’s Shelter, Geraldine was never on the street. In addition to a bed and three meals, she was able to see a nurse, get a flu shot, and have her hair done. She also participated in the Simpson Savings Program that secured her a bed for an extended period of time. After a couple of months in the shelters, Geraldine got connected with Housing Advocate Amy Stroman and the Simpson Rapid Exit program, which is designed to expedite the move from a shelter to permanent housing. Thirty percent of her income goes towards her apartment in public housing. Navigating the world of public housing can be tricky, but her advocate Amy helped her with the process.
Now that she is in housing, Geraldine is able to focus on some of the things she loves to do like exercising, embroidery, playing Scrabble, being a grandmother and volunteering at her church. There was not any one thing that caused Geraldine’s bout with homelessness – more a series of unlucky events. When Geraldine needed help, she sought it out, her luck turned around, and she found home.
PHOTO, above right: Robert, left and Same, right.
Wilbur, a former Simpson shelter guest, was one of the first SARA program participants. He has been housed for two and a half years. “Wilbur is one of those guys who always helps out without being asked or expecting anything in return,” Mary Gallini, Single Adult Housing Program Manager, reports
On any given night in Hennepin County, at least 2,800 people are experiencing homelessness, the majority in Minneapolis. After spending time with Mary Gallini, Housing Resource Specialist with the Simpson SARA program, you get the sense that she has met most of them.
Mary’s work is not an exact science. She is part counselor, part advocate, part ear-to-bend, part taskmaster. “This kind of work requires some hard decisions. It is about setting boundaries and expectations,” she says.
A large part of the success of the SARA program can be attributed to the weekly contact and open lines of communication between clients and advocates. “When we meet with the people in our program, we usually spend the first 20 minutes or so listening to what they have to say. That is what is missing in many of their lives; a family member or level-headed friend to help problem-solve. This is something we all need in our lives.”
Quite often, people experiencing homelessness have a combination of factors working against them. “Many of the folks in the SARA program have generational poverty in their families. Almost half were adopted, were in foster care or had runaway as children.” 81% of participants live with a chemical dependency and nearly 41% live with a mental illness. 41% have suffered from a head trauma at some point in their life. “Usually what has caused the person to be homeless is only made worse by the rough life on the street.”
The issue of homelessness and the numbers affected can seem daunting, yet those who work in the front lines remain generally optimistic. “This can be fixed if we really decide that we want to. It requires honestly assessing people’s strengths and barriers and creating a variety of housing options to meet their needs. The government will need to change its priorities for there to be enough money to make this happen. I always like to remind people that those in need of these programs are someone’s brother, aunt, or parent and now we’re seeing how likely each one is to succeed if they are given a chance and treated with dignity.”
She loves doing the laundry, washing the dishes and getting the groceries. These are things many people complain about, but Paula says they make her day. One of the first participants in the Women’s Housing Partnership (WHP), she is settled into her apartment near downtown Minneapolis. She recently completed treatment and is currently attending after-care. Things are pretty sunny on her side of the street.
The road to finding a stable home wasn’t easy. After getting laid off, losing her house, battling drugs and alcohol, and spending many nights on “the island,” just north of downtown, she found her way to the Simpson Women’s Shelter. A shelter advocate connected her to WHP and things started coming together.
Diagnosed with bi-polar disorder and depression, she is getting the help she needs; help that would be hard to take if she didn’t have a home to go to at night. Next on her list is getting her G.E.D. and spending time with her grown children.
You don’t need to speak with Paula very long to see she is happy. Determination got her where she is. She plans on staying there.
John R. remembers the day his artist father taught him to paint. He showed him a picture: a house nestled within a thick landscape, beneath an open blue sky. John’s dad told him, “Begin with the sky, always begin with the sky.” John picked up his brush and began with the sky. When he finished the sky, he moved carefully down the scene, adding bits of detail and splashes of color as he went. He wasn’t in a hurry. His dad told him it would take a while, so he went slowly, but eventually John finished his painting. When John speaks of his painting of the house, his bright, melodic voice turns especially hopeful and spirited.
John grew up in Chicago. He first came to Minnesota nearly twenty years ago. After treks out west, he moved back for good, recognizing that he had a true Midwestern soul. “I just got a good feeling about Minnesota.” John has spent most of his time in Minnesota without a steady place to call home, but last spring with the help of Simpson’s SARAP program, John found a house to live in and call his own. When John speaks of his new home, his voice brims with the same fervor he uses to describe the painting he created with his dad. He loves the gleaming hardwood floors and the sun that pours in when he opens his blinds in the morning. He loves the washer and dryer in the basement and the stove that he cleans with precision everyday.
ohn says that living on the street wears you down. “All the doors are closed, all the avenues shut. There is just no place else to go.” But John is a man with hope. He is an early-riser who greets the day with a cup of tea and a mission. “Having a home makes all the difference in the world. I have plans and dreams, and now that I have a home, they’re within reach. I can step out of my door and take on life because I have a door to step back into.
Ron talks about his time on the streets
Cynthia is settled in
After years on the streets, Cynthia is stable in her northeast Minneapolis apartment
Cynthia loves living in northeast Minneapolis. The public library is halfway down the block and she goes to work right around the corner. The bus stops outside her door and takes her to wherever she wants to go. Her one-bedroom apartment is a perfect size for her and her cat Mr. Paw-Paw.
It took Cynthia a while to get settled. Originally from San Diego, many of her years in Minnesota have been spent on the streets. “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.”
A year ago, Cynthia was connected to Mary Gallini and Simpson Housing Services’ Single Adult Rental Assistance Program (SARA). This highly successful program works with adults who have experienced long-term homelessness (an average of 11 years) and works at placing and keeping them in stable housing.
Since the program began over two years ago, 100% of the participants have been placed into permanent housing and 84% have maintained it. Of the participants, 82% have maintained or increased their income level.
Cynthia is an energetic, animated woman, but she grows somber when she talks about how vulnerable women are on the streets. “There are predators out there who prey on homeless women. 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.”
Though she is stable and secure, Cynthia can’t help but worry about her friends who are still out on the streets; friends like the woman who gave her the heart-shaped pendant she wears around her neck. Wearing her heart-shaped pendant helps her keep the faith that all the women who are still on the street will be safe and will find their way home.
John M. moved into his apartment about six months ago. To see him at home, cross-legged and comfortable, nestled among the indoor forest of houseplants in his living room, you would swear that he has been there his whole life. When he first spied the South Minneapolis Victorian-turned-apartment building, with the ornate molding, high ceilings and enormous front picture windows, he knew it had to be his new home. With help from Simpson’s newly developed Single Adult Rental Assitance Program (SARAP), John moved in shortly thereafter.
There is a sense of peace, calm and wisdom about John. The walls of his home are covered with his colorful, expressive acrylic paintings. One of his striking sun-catcher mobiles dances in the light and other assorted pieces of found art are propped here and there. Everything about John speaks of an artist’s soul. One of his daughter’s framed drawings hangs above a doorway. Background music fills the air and tubes of paint, brushes, and interesting photos can be found just about everywhere. Even his stacks of assorted stuff have a beautiful order about them. John’s day job working with vintage and retro clothing shows an eye for finding beauty in the everyday item.
John thinks deeply before he speaks, concentrating with a quiet intensity. He gestures in a grand way, like an orchestra conductor. “This place is my boxcar to the stars. I want to transform my space into a new dimension. I want my home to be a place where visitors can experience and discover something about themselves and about me.”
After being on the streets for seven years, John is very much at home in his new space. And after spending just a little time with John you get to know him very well. “Live your life and be who you are. Don’t sell yourself short and you’ll be okay.”
“We’re all in the same boat, just with different oars. Some have lost a job or got sick. Some have been the victim of violence. No matter what, we all need to be pulling together and helping each other.”
Clemme is a guest at the Simpson Women’s Shelter. She is currently experiencing homelessness.
Clemme knows of what she speaks. A blueprint press operator all of her life, she is used to working and punching a clock. But undiagnosed diabetes sent her into a coma a few years ago…she lost her job and soon after, lost her three-bedroom house.
She works temp jobs as often as she can and would love to get back into a place of her own, but on her limited income, even the application fees needed to begin the process of getting an apartment can be overwhelming.
Although she is of incredibly good cheer, she speaks of how hard it is to be homeless. “I worry about all the women out there. They’re so vulnerable. We need more shelters for women.” When she isn’t laughing or sharing stories with folks around her, she has her nose buried in the most recent book she is reading. For the time-being, Clemme is warm and safe.
Arnold is one of those people you encounter who seems to have lived about ten lives. Raised by tough but loving parents in middle-class Cincinnati, he had what you would call a pretty normal upbringing. Although he liked to party, he made pretty good grades and graduated from high school in the late 1960s.
Soon after, he married his high school sweetheart. Unsure what to do next with his life, he entered the Army and soon found himself in Vietnam (a situation he refers to as “full of stink, corruption and madness”). After a difficult discharge he found his marriage to be basically over and he hit the pavement. Arnold refers to himself and the next 30 years of his life as a “pinball in a machine,” bouncing all over the lower half of the United States.
Arnold was always a worker; holding down construction, oil rigging and temp jobs wherever he went. He says he had only two apartments of his own throughout those 30 years. The rest of the time was spent at his parents, at friends, in flophouses, missions, under bushes, and about anywhere he could lay his head. Hitchhiking was his standard mode of getting around. It was a life on the move, never stopping long enough for even the dust to settle.
There were certainly good times along the way; his stories make you marvel that he is still with us. Some of them make you long for the adventurous life. But along the way, the fun began to wear thin. Alcohol and drug abuse played a role in it. There were petty crimes and some not so petty as well. Arnold is versed in talk of life on the streets. He says that big cities are easier to be homeless in, because of the transportation and the labor pools that could get you work. He talks of hobo-jungles and tramp-diners. He says, “Louisville is a good tramp-town.”
The beginning of the new millennium found Arnold in Florida living in a beach community that he loved. In 2002 his Dad died, an ultimately loyal man in his life who Arnold said “might banish you, but never throw you away.” It was about this time also that he started to experience some health problems of his own. Arnold took a turn to start taking care of himself. He headed to Minnesota and found some good healthcare, which included help with the drugs and alcohol.
Arnold was sleeping out on the street a lot of the time, but he also found his way to the Simpson Men’s Shelter. He was a true Simpson boy, as he puts it. “It was the only shelter in town that I would stay in.” If he wasn’t at Simpson, he was on the street. After a year in and out of the shelter, he got into the SARAP program (see box above) and found a place of his own in downtown Minneapolis, where he is currently living.
Arnold says that there was a time when he didn’t know if he could live any other way than to extremes. Having been exposed to such extreme situations in his life, he reports having felt “alienated and angry” at times. He is housed now and says, “I feel good.” Now Arnold travels for pleasure, with a steady home base to come back to. He tells his stories of 30 years without a home with great wit and reflection. And he has gratitude for those who have helped him settle into his home, and to everyone he has encountered throughout his life.
On a particular day in early November, William looked much younger than his 60-some years. Part of it might have been the excitement he was feeling as Simpson shelter advocates helped him to move into his new apartment, a place to call his own.
William’s work as a machine operator and fabricator requires that he gets up early every morning, at least by 4 a.m. Over the last few months, William has been traveling to work from the Simpson Men’s Shelter where he has been staying. Unexpected circumstances with his family turned William out onto the street a year ago. He says he never thought homelessness would happen to him and listening to him, you believe what he is saying.
With the positive attitude that has served him well throughout his life, he found the Simpson Men’s Shelter and entered the Simpson savings program. The Simpson savings program secures a shelter guest a bed for three months if they agree to turn a portion of their income over to Simpson for safekeeping. His savings have helped him get into his new one-bedroom apartment.
On moving day, Bryce and Robert (men’s shelter advocates), as well as Larry (a friend of Simpson) helped William get settled into his new place with an incredible view of downtown Minneapolis. As they moved his furniture into his apartment, two new neighbors stopped and introduced themselves. William already had a gift of Minnesota wild rice ready to present to them. He was excited to send down roots in his new place he’ll call home.