Sunday, October 21, 2018
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Minneapolis city plan extends shelter hours

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Dale Thomas was recently homeless for five months. He says extending shelter hours is a good first step. (Brandt Williams)
Under current zoning codes, Minneapolis shelters for single adults can only stay open for 16 hours at a time, forcing homeless people out of doors during the day. The change to the city's zoning code doesn't come with extra money for the shelters to stay open for the extra hours. However, some call it an important step toward better treatment for the city's homeless.

Minneapolis, Minn. — The change in the city's code will apply to shelters housing single adults. By law the shelters have to close for eight hours a day. That means that in spring, summer, fall or winter the people using that shelter have to go outside.

Homeless advocates say many who use overnight shelters have jobs during the day. Minneapolis city councilmember Lisa Goodman says those who don't have jobs should be allowed to stay inside where they can get help or just stay warm.

I was working at Target technology services and I used to have to leave in the morning at 6:45. But my case was different, I had an eight-hour day job to go to.
- Dale Thomas

"We are trying to provide a place for people to be instead of on Peavy Plaza or on Royalston Avenue or out in the cold, under a bridge and dealing with the terrible, inclement weather that we have in this state," says Goodman.

The city makes a distinction between shelters and longer term housing. So, in order to prevent shelters from serving as more permanent lodging, shelter residents will have to leave the building briefly and then come back and re-register for another 24-hour period.

Other city councilmembers hailed the move as long overdue and called it the 'humanitarian thing to do.'

City councilmember Gary Schiff says the shelter residents may not see any impact from the new ordinance anytime soon.

"None of this may change overnight," says Schiff. "The shelters simply don't have the funding they need to stay open longer hours presently. I know there's many in the housing and the homeless advocacy community that wanted a big chunk of money to come with this change. We're unable to do that today because of our financial situation."

One of the homeless advocates welcoming the change is Guy Gambill. He's currently a member of several task forces and organizations that focus on issues of housing, homelessness and poverty. Gambill says he and other advocates have been working for years to try to get a change to policies that determine how long shelters can stay open.

"We love seeing this," says Gambill. "A lot of the providers are concerned about the funding -- that there isn't funding attached. But you can't get the funding unless you get the law changed. So, that's a big step. Now we can work on the next step, which is getting the money to stay open the extra hours."

Councilmembers also say longer hours will also help shelters stagger the times when people can enter or leave. They say some business owners and residents of downtown have complained about the mass exodus of people from shelters to other parts of downtown.

But some people, like Dale Thomas, who until recently was homeless, are frustrated with that complaint.

"In my opinion, if the businesses were upset that the homeless people were flooding their gates, if you will, why wouldn't they consider hiring some of these people?" he says.

Thomas is 26 and smartly dressed. He's a computer expert who came to Minnesota from Florida, five months ago. Thomas knows what it's like to be employed and still be without a home.

"I happened to go to St. Stephens because it was closer to my first job at Target," says Thomas. "I was working at Target technolgoy services and I used to have to leave in the morning at 6:45. But my case was different, I had an eight-hour day job to go to. Some of the other homeless guys, they don't have that luxury."

Thomas says extending shelter hours is a good first step. He says he'd like to see more emphasis placed on training people to do jobs that can help them leave poverty. But Thomas also says being forced out of the shelter in the morning is not always a bad thing.

"One of the reasons why the shelters put people out in the morning, they don't necessarily just put people out, but they encourage them to go find work," says Thomas. "I mean, if you're just sitting at the shelter, or sleeping all day, then you're not focused on getting your stability."

Hennepin County officials say they are interested in the city's 24-hour shelter plan. The county is a major funder for the city's homeless shelters. At least one Hennepin County commissioner says the issue will likely come before the board in the near future.

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