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Super Bowl disruptions more than just annoyance for Mpls. homeless residents

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Gregory Graham, who is currently experiencing homelessness
Gregory Graham warms up inside Metro Transit's 7th Street garage in Minneapolis on Friday, Feb. 2. Graham said the changes to public transit because of the Super Bowl have caused him the biggest hassle.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Disruption has become part of life for many Twin Cities residents in the weeks leading up to today's Super Bowl: Many transit routes have been altered, security has increased and thousands of visitors have begun to descend on downtown Minneapolis.

For some, those changes have meant altered routines and the occasional frustration at the  inconvenience.

But for Minnesotans with the fewest resources, a Super Bowl in subzero weather can be more than a minor disruption. Some of downtown Minneapolis' homeless residents say the changes there are straining their coping skills. 

Nakehia Cotton was homeless until a few days ago, he said, when his daughter found housing he could share. It's been difficult to navigate downtown Minneapolis as he usually does, he said, with some areas closed to the public and others with stepped-up security.

"It's been hard, because we usually take a certain route so we can get somewhere faster so we won't be so cold," he said. 

Nakehia Cotton stands for a portrait
Nakehia Cotton stands inside Metro Transit's 7th Street garage in Minneapolis on Friday. Cotton, who was recently homeless, gathers coats and other warm clothing to give to other people experiencing homelessness.
Evan Frost | MPR News

This week, he said, security officers have been telling him to leave the skyways, transit centers and other indoor spaces where he would typically spend time. 

"It's like, they're taking no prisioners," he said.  

Gregory Graham, standing inside the lobby of Metro Transit's 7th Street garage, said that rules in place for the light rail on Sunday — only riders with Super Bowl tickets and a transit pass will be allowed onto the trains at certain locations; others will be redirected to buses — could mean major changes for his usual trip from Richfield to Minneapolis.

"If we don't have a Super Bowl ticket, we can't ride the train Sunday," he said. "But you have a bus. Now I've got to turn my 15-minute ride into an hour-and-15-minute ride because I've got to take a bus."

The disruption to routines for Minneapolis' homeless residents is visible across the city's downtown. John Tribbett, who runs the street outreach program for St. Stephen's Human Services, saw it firsthand Friday, as he bundled up against the cold on Nicollet Mall.

His team was out that day to weave through the crowds of Super Bowl visitors downtown and check on people experiencing homelessness. They help them access social services and meet their most immediate needs.

"Normally, this is an area where you would see people hanging out," he said, as he stood in the Target building. "You're not seeing that. I don't know why that is, but certainly people's normal routines have been disrupted."

ohn Tribbett scans the crystal court
John Tribbett scans the Crystal Court inside the IDS Building in downtown Minneapolis for anyone who might be experiencing homelessness and taking refuge from the cold on Friday. Tribbett runs the street outreach program for St. Stephen's Human Services and says the influx of people and events for the Super Bowl has disrupted many people's routines.
Evan Frost | MPR News

St. Stephen's has increased their outreach efforts downtown during Super Bowl week. 

"What we're really concerned about are the people that can't or don't have the ability to care for themselves as much as others, and so they're vulnerable," Tribbett said.

Still, Tribbett said, his worst fears about the Super Bowl haven't come true. Media reports out of San Francisco's Super Bowl two years ago said homeless residents were being cleared out of parts of the city that were dedicated to game-related festivities. Tribbett said he hasn't heard reports of that type of mass displacement from his clients.

Neither has Tim Hart-Anderson, senior pastor at Westminster Presbyterian Church, which sits on Nicollet Mall right next to the Peavey Plaza skating rink and much of the Super Bowl festivities. Westminster opened a space for homeless residents to store their belongings during the day, and get coffee and a bag lunch over Super Bowl week. Hart-Andersen said people using the church's service haven't had too many complaints.

"From what we've heard,"" he said, "there has not been a major push to hide those who are experiencing homelessness or cover up some of our city's issues." 

Gregory Graham holds packets of hand warmers
Gregory Graham holds packets of hand warmers to ward against the chilly air on Friday in downtown Minneapolis.
Evan Frost | MPR News

He's relieved.

Still, both Tribbett and Hart-Andersen say focusing on homelessness just during Super Bowl week misses the real story.

Homelessness is a problem year-round in Minnesota. A 2015 Wilder Research study estimated homelessness affects more than 15,000 Minnesotans. The Super Bowl, Tribbett said, only highlights the problem temporarily.

"Come Monday morning, many people that arrived in the city are going to leave," Tribbett said, "and there's still going to be this large amount of people in this city that don't have anywhere to go during the day because they're staying in shelter and they're asked to leave very early in the morning, or they're spending the night on the train trying to to find somewhere to stay warm." 

Nakehia Cotton and others grab bags of coats and other possessions
Nakehia Cotton grabs bags of coats and other clothes give to people who are homeless as they leave Metro Transit's 7th Street garage in downtown Minneapolis on Friday.
Evan Frost | MPR News

The Wilder study cited a lack of affordable housing as a driving factor in Minnesota homelessness.

Gregory Graham says problems like that won't change when Super Bowl guests leave. 

"We live here, he said. "You're going to entertain them for two weeks, but we're going to still be here."