Where will homeless go when Twin Cities Super Bowl comes to town?
The Super Bowl will shine a spotlight on Minnesota and flood the Twin Cities with visitors, but there are concerns about what will happen to homeless people in the shadow of the big event.
At First Covenant Church Minneapolis, across the street from U.S. Bank Stadium and within the Super Bowl security perimeter, the 50- to 60-bed homeless shelter will shut down during the four nights leading up to Super Bowl Sunday. Those accustomed to staying at First Covenant will be asked to relocate for a few days to St. Olaf Catholic Church, six blocks away.
"The combination of events and security reached a point, a tipping point where we're like, you know, this is not going to be best for our guests," said Dan Collison, First Covenant's senior pastor.
It's a mixed bag for the congregation. There's the disruption, but there's also a check: The Super Bowl is renting the church parking lot and using some of its facilities as training venues.
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"It's a fair amount," said Collison who declined to say how much the church is receiving. "It helps pay the heating bills. It helps do some of the improvements that need to be done ... so we can keep the lights on and continue our work long after the Super Bowl's gone."
In St. Paul, contingency planning is also underway to take care of homeless people come Super Bowl time. The county typically offers hotel vouchers to families that cannot find a place to stay during the winter. But with hotel space at a premium around the Super Bowl other arrangements are being made, said Ryan O'Connor, who oversees Ramsey County's health and wellness programs.
Churches, he said, have agreed to provide overnight accommodations.
The St. Paul school district started to raise money to open a temporary shelter for homeless families who otherwise would be housed in hotel rooms. But organizers abruptly dropped their effort after Ramsey County officials said they could place families even if no hotel rooms are available.
Advocates for the homeless hope the attention around their plight will not fade after the Super Bowl has come and gone. They say homelessness is a growing problem in the Twin Cities and that homeless people are increasingly using light rail trains as shelters.
"We serve a very vulnerable population, so we're concerned that outside security might see somebody homeless with a backpack on their back as a security threat" during the Super Bowl, said Gail Dorfman, a former Hennepin County commissioner who runs St. Stephen's Human Services, a nonprofit serving the homeless.
Two years ago, homeless advocates accused San Diego officials of trying to drive homeless people away from areas around the Padres ballpark in advance of Major League Baseball's All-Star Game.
Dorfman, who also serves on a Metropolitan Council panel that's been working with local Super Bowl organizers on security and transportation issues, says all efforts are being made to make sure nothing like that happens during Super Bowl week.