BY KAY SCHROVEN
Oh a storm is threatening
My very life today
If I don’t get some shelter
Oh yeah, I’m gonna fade away
— “Gimme Shelter,” The Rolling Stones
In the 1980s when many mental health facilities were closing, 14 local churches became involved in addressing homelessness and providing services. Three of these still exist today: Our Saviour’s Lutheran, St. Stephen’s Catholic and Simpson United Methodist. These, in addition to the Salvation Army and Catholic Charities, form the largest continuum of services for the unsheltered and homeless communities in Minneapolis.
Simpson United Methodist has been a leader for nearly 40 years, providing shelter to those in need in the basement of their church. The not-for-profit employs 115 individuals and has an operating budget of $10 million. The CARES Act has recently provided funding, which allows the shelter to remain open 24/7 during the COVID-19 pandemic. The organization navigates approximately 100 individuals per year into housing. Having sold their Bell House on Pillsbury Avenue in the Whittier neighborhood, the organization purchased its own building at 160 Glenwood Ave. and plans to move its administrative offices this summer (2021).
In addition, Simpson is very excited about a new project! They continue to raise funds to build a 70-bed short-term shelter and 42 units of permanent supportive housing at the Simpson United Methodist Church site (1st Avenue South and 28th Street). Given the age of the building (139 yrs.) and a dwindling number of urban parishioners, the congregation donated the building to Simpson House. The new shelter project has been accepted by the Minneapolis Planning Commission and supported by the Whittier Alliance and Council President Lisa Bender (Ward 10). It is expected to open within the next few years. LHB Architects and Project for Pride in Living are engaged in the design and development of the project. The plan is to create a five-story modern and dignified facility with a commercial kitchen, a medical clinic, sleeping areas, showers, laundry rooms and common spaces with plenty of natural light, as well as very affordable apartment units.
While the church’s basement shelter is not modern or dignified, it is dear to many for a variety of reasons. One resident put it simply: “hot meals, clean sheets and people who care.” For nearly four decades, the 66-bed shelter has been a stable temporary home “where you stay for a night or for weeks, as needed, and are treated like a human being.”
Simpson offers three key programs: Shelter, Family Housing and Single Adults Housing.
In addition to providing beds, the shelter provides three meals a day but uses caterers now during the pandemic rather than volunteers. They serve 100 per night and alums are welcome. While the church is closed due to COVID, they continue operating a food shelf.
Family Housing is coordinated with Hennepin County, and provides housing to approximately 300 families and 600 children, working with landlords and developers to secure appropriate housing. In addition, Simpson offers educational programs designed for breaking the cycle of homelessness by supporting early childhood development through programs addressing education, financial stability, wellness, child care, language and literacy, and employment. In 2018 this program was awarded $2.5 million toward expansion by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. They are one of 24 nonprofit agencies selected in the U.S. for this award. This award will allow them to expand their services by 20 percent.
The Single Adults program is designed for adults who have experienced long-term (four or more years) homelessness. It is built around support and advocacy and provides services to over 200 adults annually. This program supports The Women’s Housing Partnership, Opportunity Housing Partnership and Rapid Re-Housing Program. The Women’s Program focuses on forging ongoing relationships with women to help them develop independence and stability. The Opportunity Partnership is a collaboration amongst Simpson, AEON and Avivo to support two housing communities in downtown Minneapolis. They offer efficiency apartments and opportunities for community engagement. The Rapid Re-Housing Program is a short-term intervention program designed to provide financial assistance and services to individuals experiencing homelessness in order to quickly re-house and stabilize them.
Those in need of services can report to the basement of St. Olaf’s Church in Minneapolis (215 S. 8th St.) where intake is conducted. Those looking to contribute to ending homelessness can learn more on the Simpson website, www.simpsonhousing.org, under Ways to Help. Under Volunteer you will find current opportunities and an application. Donations can be made in the form of funds or commonly needed supplies such as toilet paper, school supplies and electronics. Mark your calendar for May 12 for the 11th annual Art4Shelter event. This year’s event will be virtual and will feature many local artists. Original art will be available for purchase ($35) and all proceeds will go to the Simpson Shelter and Housing programs. You can access the event on the Simpson website.
Four Men from St. Paul
Hey God, it is not working out too well
This business of being alive
You never said it would be easy
But I never thought I’d see children on my street going hungry.
Or four men freezing to death after being turned away from a shelter for homeless people
So what happened God?
Didn’t those four men rate that night?
Did being drunk make them disposable?
Oh, I still believe in you
But it’s getting hard to find you in the city
And those four men who froze to death
didn’t see your Light of com- passion shining that night
So God be straight with me—
Is there no more room at the inn?
–Pam Wynn, Home Words,
St. Stephens Shelter, 1991