Homelessness at the U

More than 2,000 people will sleep in shelters in Minneapolis and St. Paul tonight.

I would laugh at the naivete if the subject matter were different. Marty Andrade’s Sept. 13 opinion “On beggars and thieves,” on the “able-bodied homeless,” lacked so much information, I felt compelled to respond.

In March, I was contacted for an interview with regard “to some of the homeless at the U.” My first question to the reporter? Was he referring to the University students or the employees who are homeless?

After a moment of silence, he said he was referring to those hanging around the University. Here are a few facts that made neither March’s article nor yesterday’s opinion piece:

The number of homeless or precariously housed people in Minnesota? Twenty-one thousand.

The homeless population as related to the state’s population? Less than one-half of 1 percent.

The percent of “the homeless,” (or “people,” as I like to call them), who are children? Fifty percent. Who are women? Twenty-five percent.

So, eliminating women and children from the one-half of 1 percent, we arrive at a very small number for two such big articles in the Daily.

When Andrade refers to beggars, thieves or hobos who are homeless, let’s first recognize that he is talking about a population that is much smaller than the number of students or employees in our community who are homeless.

Second, Andrade somehow equates able-bodied with able-minded. I wish I had his ability to look at someone, drunk or panhandling, and know whether he or she has schizophrenia or another mental illness. I don’t think a clinical psychologist could even do that. Are he and those who share his opinion able to tell which of their classmates are sleeping at the Bridge for Youth? Or which store employee at the University slept in a shelter last night? I doubt it. I am certain that as he drives down the street, he can’t point to which kids running around are homeless.

More than 2,000 people will sleep in shelters in Minneapolis and St. Paul tonight. How about instead of focusing our energy and precious media coverage on those who some think want to live outside, we ask what we have contributed to ending homelessness.

One potential contributor is Dean Thomas Fisher and members of the College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture. I recently brought them on a tour of Minneapolis shelters. They are discerning how architects can contribute to housing solutions for people experiencing homelessness. Andrade has now received an invitation, and I invite others to contact me and let advocates show you and those in your community the reality of homelessness.

I thank Andrade for one reason. It is a reminder to advocates in the homeless community that we must always start with the most basic education about homelessness. Too many in the community think homeless equals a drunk, panhandling man.

Andrade is right about one thing. Homelessness definitely has changed over the last 30 years. Oh, how I wish we only needed to work with train-riding hobos. Back in “the good old days,” as Andrade calls them, we wouldn’t need to bring people over to the University to register for school or get to work.

Andrade does say there are probably people who are homeless who need sympathy, he just hasn’t met any. You have met them, had class with them, worked with them and lived next to them, you just couldn’t see that because they weren’t pushing shopping carts, staggering with bottles in their hands or asking you for change.

More likely, they were giving you your change at the checkout counter.

Monica Nilsson is the community development director at The Bridge for Youth. Please send comments to [email protected]