BY ELINA KOLSTAD
The other day on the Blue Line train, a woman sitting nearby struck up a conversation with my husband and me. She started by commenting on one of the two people sleeping in our vicinity, noting the woman’s nicely done nails. We all agreed that sometimes all you have in this life are the little things. Our neighbor on the train then went on to marvel that we have such a problem with homelessness. She herself is homeless. She informed us that she has a job, a good job in fact, but that she still can’t find a place to live. Just the day before, she had run into a woman who had lost four fingers a couple weeks ago during a cold snap. All of the shelters had been full. All our neighbor on the train could do was buy the frostbite victim some food and wonder at a city that allows such inhumanity.
This conversation began as the train inched away from US Bank Stadium and I couldn’t help but wonder, don’t stadiums usually serve as shelters to house people during natural disasters such as hurricanes? Can’t the city work out a deal where we convert the stadium into an overnight shelter on those nights when it’s especially cold? Shouldn’t we be getting something for all the tax dollars we put into that boondoggle? I know last year the city made extra efforts during the polar vortex to make sure people were as safe as possible, but this is Minneapolis where even an average winter night can literally kill. We need to start treating these normal circumstances as the emergency that it is.
Simply adding more condos to our city won’t solve this problem. We need to put our money where our mouth is and find more emergency shelter options while at the same time putting our energy into subsidizing truly affordable housing options. I am encouraged by the work of Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar on the national level, although Omar’s inclusion of subsidies for “market rate” housing and prioritizing new construction over updating existing public housing concerns me.
We all deserve better. Those of us with secure housing deserve to not be ashamed and embarrassed by the city we live in, and those struggling deserve safe housing. It’s 2020 and high time to let go of puritanical idea of the “deserving poor.” It’s time to let go of the idea that if someone is homeless and loses four fingers, they somehow brought it on themselves. We need to recognize the role played by an unjust and traumatizing system. We need to move forward and solve this problem. In the meantime, the least we can do is make sure everyone has a safe and warm place to sleep at night.