Walz launches effort to find winter shelter for homeless people

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A tepee sits in the snow
The tepee at the Wall of Forgotten Natives in Minneapolis on Thursday. At the Minnesota Women's Indian Resource Center, a shelter not far from the Wall of Forgotten Natives, Gov. Tim Walz announced efforts to address homelessness across the state.
Cody Nelson | MPR News

Updated 3:11 p.m.

Gov. Tim Walz’s administration has joined forces with foundations and business leaders to increase the number of beds in shelters across the state as temperatures drop.

Walz announced the effort Thursday at the Minnesota Women's Indian Resource Center in Minneapolis, a shelter not far from the Wall of Forgotten Natives, a homeless encampment that was shuttered last year.

The Minnesota Winter Homeless Initiative includes nearly $5 million immediately to add roughly 150 beds in shelters across the state, including 25 to 30 at the Women’s Indian Resource Center.

Beds will also be added at churches in Washington County, a shelter in Ramsey County and in rented homes and apartments in northern Minnesota.

Tents sit in the snow
Tents sit at the site of the former Minneapolis homeless encampment on Sunday.
Cody Nelson | MPR News

The governor’s office started contacting businesses two and a half weeks ago to raise they money, and Walz said he was impressed at how quickly things came together. Donations came in from the Metropolitan Council, family foundations, and businesses like Ecolab, Securian, Andersen Corp. and Wells Fargo.

"And I want you to understand what we're talking about here is not theoretical, not a dream, these are happening next week,” Walz said. “These are happening right now."

The initiative is ongoing and the problem is growing. The state estimates there are as many as 1,600 people sleeping outside in Minnesota on a given night, including 300 children and youth.

The numbers have doubled since 2015.

Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan said long-term, the state needs to invest more in affordable housing in order to address more systemic homelessness.

"Housing is out of reach for far too many, and we must fix that. Housing ends homelessness,” she said. “Until we fix housing for all Minnesotans, we must also find safe places for them to be."

Shortly after the Walz administration's announcement, a group of Native American community members gathered at the Wall of Forgotten Natives to rebuild and strengthen a tepee they erected on the site to honor the city's homeless.

They built the tepee last weekend when they reoccupied the former homeless encampment, protesting what they considered too slow progress by Minneapolis and state leaders in helping people — especially Native Americans — find places to stay.

Sam Strong, secretary of Red Lake Nation, was among those at the tepee rebuilding.

"There's too many of our people that are dying on the streets," he said. "There's too many of our people there experiencing homelessness all across the state. And we can do more. We can do more as a society to take care of our relatives, our brothers and sisters that are forgotten."

When a group of men rebuilt the tepee, they attached an upside down United States flag — meant to be a symbol of distress.

Strong said while he appreciates the governor's efforts, they're not enough.

"We're fighting decades and centuries of injustice. And so it's a long struggle," he said. "We're here to remind the people that there's a lot that still are affected by this problem. And we can't forget them. We can't forget the struggle of being outside in these kinds of conditions."

Correction (Dec. 20, 2019): A previous version of this story misspelled Andersen Corp.’s name.