In bitter cold, public transit becomes a refuge for some

A train stop in the snow
The Green Line light rail in St. Paul on Thursday. In the winter, the light rail and buses become temporary shelter for many homeless people in the Twin Cities.
Feven Gerezgiher | MPR News

For homeless people in the Twin Cities, keeping warm in subzero temperatures is a constant struggle. Metro Transit buses and light rail trains often serve as a respite.

MPR News reporter Feven Gerezgiher hopped on the Green Line in Minneapolis and spoke to some riders on their way to St. Paul who were homeless and trying to make due.

“A lot of them are just trying to stay warm … they’re really just trying to find a safe space at night,” Gerezgiher told Minnesota Now host Cathy Wurzer.

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Audio transcript

INTERVIEWER: Well, there are incredibly cold temperatures out there. Those windchills definitely dangerous. In the Twin Cities, Metro Transit buses and trains are still running. Our reporter Feven Gerezgiher hopped on a bus in Minneapolis and talked to some folks on their way to Saint Paul.

We want to talk to Feven right now about that trip. Hey, Feven, welcome to the program.


INTERVIEWER: How busy was the bus?

FEVEN GEREZGIHER: It was pretty normal. The streets were pretty empty, like didn't seat a lot of cars. But there were a regular amount of passengers on the bus and train.

INTERVIEWER: So I know you were talking to some folks on their way to work. I bet they were cold. What were they saying?

FEVEN GEREZGIHER: A lot of people were like this is just Minnesota. Like they weren't too concerned about things. A few people were just aware that the conditions might get worse later.

But they were feeling comfortable because they were taking the train or bus home. And so it's just out of their hands. They just have to hop on.

INTERVIEWER: Now this is the time of year when some people use the bus as a means to stay warm. And Metro Transit has this cold weather protocol. When it gets really cold, they'll allow folks to get on the bus to stay warm.

They don't need to pay the fare. They don't encourage it. So I know you spoke with a woman named Rebecca. So let's listen to a little clip from her.

AUTOMATED VOICE: --Street Station.

REBECCA: So I'm staying warm today, riding on the train and going down to Dorothy Day to eat lunch. And then I'm going to be getting back on the train. And, hopefully, maybe going to a friend's house for a little while.

And then getting back on the train and coming back around to do-- riding back on the train because I am homeless. And I do have my kitty, who is homeless and, you know, my boyfriend.

But we stay warm just by riding on the train. And I do wish that there were more places for us homeless people to go. There's not enough beds for the men who are homeless. There's not enough beds for the women that are almost.

INTERVIEWER: Well, Feven, so she's been riding the train quite a bit?

FEVEN GEREZGIHER: Yeah, she was telling me that it can be challenging when you have a service animal and a partner because there's not enough beds, but also a lot of shelters don't take animals. And so, if she wants to be together with her pet and her partner, they have to be out on the street.

INTERVIEWER: And what did commuters say? Did you have a chance to talk to them about this situation?

FEVEN GEREZGIHER: About unsheltered people?

INTERVIEWER: Yes, on the bus.

FEVEN GEREZGIHER: I didn't talk to any commuters, then. I've talked to commuters, in general. And I know some people, sometimes, they're like a little uncomfortable because they don't know what's happening.

And they see people with huge bags and things, but kind of talking to people today, like unsheltered people, a lot of them were like they're just trying to stay warm. And so another person who I spoke with was like one of his concerns for tonight is that he usually prefers to be on the street.

But he has to go into an apartment complex, where he can stay warm tonight. But he doesn't like doing that because people think that he's trying to steal. And then they call the cops on him. So there were a lot of just kind of different ideas of what people's perceptions are when people who live on the streets are really just trying to find a safe space at night.

INTERVIEWER: Well, here's an example. This is a man named Fernando that you talked to. Let's listen to what he had to say.

FERNANDO: We're having a heater this night because you can just plug it in, and then it's not so bad because when you make a bonfire, the Fire Department, they always show up because they see smoke that something is on fire. But when they come, they see me.

And then they just get upset, too, because it's not an emergency. But they had to come, anyway, you know.

INTERVIEWER: And Fernando's story, he's also homeless, yes?


INTERVIEWER: And he had a heater with him, is that right?

FEVEN GEREZGIHER: Yeah, he carries this little portable heater in a backpack. And he likes to find a space where he can plug it in, often, outdoors. And he was saying a challenge is that a lot of outdoor outlets are covered now.

And so he was riding the train in the daytime, while he could. And was looking for a space in the daytime, being very mindful also that there's time limits. So you can ride the train as long as you can.

And then maybe go to the library or a gas station. But in the evening, you need to find a place to plug in your heater or start a fire.

INTERVIEWER: It's such a difficult situation. Feven, thank you so much. We appreciate your time.

FEVEN GEREZGIHER: Yeah, thank you.

INTERVIEWER: Feven Gerezgiher has been with us. It's 12:16.

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