Dozens of tornado victims who had been sleeping on cots at a north Minneapolis recreation center are beginning to be moved out of the shelter, and into hotels and other living arrangements.
Housing advocates say they're confident no one will end up on the streets when the American Red Cross closes its emergency shelter Sunday.
"Everyone is going to have a place to go to," said Sue Watlov Phillips, executive director of Elim Transitional Housing, a nonprofit that has been helping relocate tornado victims.
Three dozen people spent Wednesday night at the North Commons Recreation Center, which has been operating exclusively as an emergency shelter since May 27. The number of shelter residents has remained relatively steady, compared to recovery efforts for other disasters, according to Red Cross officials.
The north side is one of the most economically challenged areas in the city, with high rates of poverty, renters, and unemployment. Some of the tornado victims were already living on the margins, making the hunt for new housing challenging.
Housing advocates fear more people will be displaced as they tire of living out of their cars or doubling up with relatives. Others may be forced to move out of damaged homes as city inspectors declare them uninhabitable. Hennepin County social workers are trying to help those residents by meeting them in their homes and directing them to safer living options.
Watlov Phillips spent Thursday afternoon driving shelter residents to various hotels and motels, where they will stay for the next two weeks. But the goal is to find them more permanent accommodations.
One challenge is that many rental leases begin at the start of the month, so the hotel accommodations will help bridge the gap until then, Watlov Phillips said.
But as other residents are being shuttled out of the shelter, the future is still uncertain for Sonya Mills and her six children. Mills said she found a new rental house, but the lease begins July 1. After the North Commons shelter closes, she doesn't know where she'll stay. Mills is resisting the idea of moving into a homeless shelter.
"I'm sorry I have six children. Everyone is moving into hotels, with no children. It's really unfair," Mills said. "They figure a shelter is a better place for me. I'm really frustrated, and hurt, and a little confused."
Recovery workers say they're doing their best to match residents with roofs with such limited affordable rental housing options in the area.
Elim is using state and federal money to help with the re-housing efforts. Hennepin County staffers have also been at the shelter to steer people to other housing options.
Additional families have turned to traditional homeless shelters, said Matthew Ayres, project manager for the Office to End Homelessness, a joint effort of Minneapolis and Hennepin County.
The American Red Cross is closing its emergency shelter at the North Commons recreation center on Sunday, one month after the tornado struck.
The Red Cross has served nearly 1,500 people with client casework in the storm's aftermath. Caseworkers will continue to meet with people to help them navigate the longer-term recovery process, said Jill Hallonquist, emergency services director for the Twin Cities chapter.
Affected residents can call the Red Cross at (612) 871-7676 for emergency disaster relief information.