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University area group hosts event providing unsheltered neighbors with resources

Showers, hot meals, haircuts and other resources were at University Baptist Church for those struggling with housing insecurity.
Image by Shannon Doyle
Pastor of the University Baptist Church Doug Donley and Executive Director of the Southeast Como Improvement Association Jessica Focht-Perlberg pose in front of the church on July 21, 2021. Focht-Perlberg and Donley organized a Drop-in Day at the church offering free hot meals, haircuts and supplies to the unhoused community in Dinkytown.

Neighbors from Southeast Como and Marcy-Holmes gathered at University Baptist Church on July 15 to offer support and varying resources to unhoused neighbors in an effort to build community. Volunteers offered resources such as hot food, showers, haircuts and HIV testing.

The Accompanying Unsheltered Neighbors Collaborative, a coalition of organizations and businesses in the Southeast Como and Marcy-Holmes area, has hosted three drop-in days since March 2021 with plans to continue. Volunteers and local business owners volunteered to provide resources at each event for neighbors struggling with housing insecurity.

Doug Donley, a pastor at University Baptist Church, said the coalition was formed as a way to address needs and provide support for unhoused neighbors.

“It’s a way to destigmatize homelessness, and also to build partnership with our neighbors,” Donley said. “We believe that our unsheltered friends are our neighbors as well.”

Jessica Focht-Perlberg, executive director of Southeast Como Improvement Association, said resources were provided by local businesses, including free food from Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers in Dinkytown and free haircuts from Steller Hair in Minneapolis.

Focht-Perlberg said the goal of the drop-in day was to provide unhoused neighbors with resources and also connections with the surrounding community.

“The goal is to really be hyper-locally focused on the community of folks that are living in our neighborhood and connect and build relationships with these folks,” Focht-Perlberg said. “So that we ourselves can be better equipped to be a resource for a broader range of needs in the neighborhood.”

Free HIV testing was also offered from The Aliveness Project, a nonprofit organization in Minneapolis focused on supporting those who are living with HIV. The Aliveness Project offered incentives, such as Target gift cards, for those who got tested.

In December 2018, there was an outbreak of HIV in Minneapolis, but since then the reported cases have trended downwards. In 2021, the Minnesota Department of Health reported 66 cases of HIV in Hennepin County.

Brad Bryan, who runs the outreach and testing department of The Aliveness Project, said it is important to connect those living with HIV to resources, especially in the wake of this outbreak.

“It’s part of our job to go and find folks who are either living with HIV and don’t know their status or living with HIV not connected to care, and get them connected to care,” Bryan said. “We really want to show up for our community in any way that we can.”

The next drop-in day will be in September at Van Cleve Park. East Side Neighborhood Services and Como Cares will also host a produce distribution that day, where neighbors struggling with food insecurity can receive fresh food.

“We aim to reduce stigma and work to collaboratively offer these resources in a way that encourages anyone who self-identifies with a wide range of housing or food security experiences to feel welcome and more connected with our shared community,” Focht-Perlberg said in an email to the Minnesota Daily.

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