Who are Downtown's homeless people?
At age 43, Tracy has seen enough of the streets. The time has come to face up to his problems and return home to the family he hasn't contacted in years. He's had enough of being homeless.
Originally from Madison (WI), Tracy came to Minneapolis fresh out of technical college, where he earned a business certificate in the hopes of finding a job and starting a career. Instead, he found cocaine.
Using the drug since the mid-'80s, Tracy refers to himself as a "functional addict." The habit has allowed him to hold down a nearly 40-hour-a-week job in food preparation at a Downtown restaurant.
Rather than saving his money for bills such as rent, Tracy said he habitually cashed his paycheck to purchase an eight-ball -- street slang for an eighth-ounce of coke. This addiction, he said, has been the cause of his homelessness.
Despite an earlier attempt to kick the habit, Tracy is still using the drug. He once signed up for a stint in rehab, but didn't possess the power to stay away from his addiction once he returned to the streets.
"The only way to get off of anything has to start within. You have to have the willpower do to it," Tracy said. "A lot of homeless people just find some reason to give up on life. This was mine."
Without a place of his own, Tracy has been a regular resident at the Salvation Army's Harbor House, 1010 Currie Ave., a Downtown shelter that houses roughly 300 people each night. In a dorm-style set up, the shelter provides meals, a bed, a pillow, sheets and a locker for $7 a night, with hygiene products.
Dave Tinkis, the shelter's chief operating officer, said Tracy's situation is not unique. Most are employed in food or janitorial services Downtown, but are faced with multiple reasons to seek shelter.
On top of chemical addictions, Tinkis said that his shelter services people with mental illnesses, physical or developmental disabilities, victims of abuse, or those who can't find affordable housing in Minneapolis.
"What you'll find with most of these clients is that it's usually not just one thing. It's usually a combination, and that is one of things we have to deal with is going through the layers of issues," Tinkis said. "Especially the older the person is, the longer it's taken for things to develop, so it takes a while to deal with those things."
Tinkis said the average stay at the shelter ranges from one to three months, typically the time it takes to save up enough to leave town or move into one of the transitional housing options provided by the shelters, a more permanent setting that encourages stability for the participant. Even though there's no limit on how long a homeless person can reside in the temporary housing, those with physical disabilities tend to be the only ones who become permanent fixtures at the shelter.
While at Harbor House, participants can utilize many programs and services that are common to each area shelter, such as public nutrition meals, healthcare services, substance abuse treatment and spiritual growth outreach.
Even though Tracy has spent his nights sleeping at the Salvation Army, he relies on Sharing and Caring Hands, 525 N. 7th St., just down the street for a majority of the services he needs to survive. Besides frequenting the program for its "excellent" meals, Tracy has turned to the complex for a pair of glasses, on top of the occasional medical and dental services that are provided free of charge.
Dick Copeland, general manager of the shelter said that even though they encounter many problems among the people they help, one persistent theme for homeless people is that there is no where else for them to turn for assistance.
"For most people, if there is a need, their family is going to be there," Copeland said. "These people either don't have that or their family is just as dysfunctional or as poor as they are."
Sharing and Caring Hands only houses families; it fills the void for individuals such as Tracy by providing free clothes, food rations, household goods and showers, along with job and housing referrals to those who ask for help. The shelter also serves three meals a day Monday-Thursday, with one dinner a day on the weekends. The shelter feeds roughly 1,000 people a day.
"We try to feed these people and help them with their needs," Copeland said. "What we can't do, we try and tell them how to get what they need."
With a concentration of shelters Downtown, Tinkis said that it is not uncommon for different entities to help the same person. That leads the shelters to assist each other to find the right placement for people in various programs.
Because each shelter has specific housing requirements -- often related to gender and need -- they redirect individuals who are not eligible for their program to another center better suited to a person's need.
"We oftentimes deal with the same people, and everybody kind of works together," Tinkis said. "We're all addressing the same issue and we are all committed to it."
Far from living in an ideal situation, Tracy is grateful that he has been able to secure services and shelter, as no night goes by when there is an open space at the city's emergency shelters. Those unable to find a bed are often forced to rely on bridge embankments, river edges, private properties and city parks for a place to rest.
Without walls to protect them, Inspector Rob Allen of the Minneapolis Police Department said that the homeless are often more vulnerable to being the victims of crime. Unfortunately, these crimes regularly go unprosecuted because the police are never made aware of the situation.
"A lot of crimes go unreported among the homeless population because they don't want the police to find out where they are living and because there is a perception that the police don't care," Allen said.
The First Precinct (Downtown) commander added that the homeless can be the victims or perpetrators of any crime on the books, and that the most common crimes initiated within the population include petty thefts, panhandling and trespassing.
Even though Tracy said he never turned to crime to support his habit (as his belief in God prevents him from hustling or stealing), the time is nearly upon him to stop running from his problems. He's ready to confront his addiction to cocaine. He's ready to become reacquainted with the family he left behind so many years ago.
"Most homeless run from themselves and their problems and their addictions," he said. "It's why they become homeless. I can't run from myself anymore."
Portraits of downtown homeless
Name: Bonnie (last name withheld)
Family status: Married, with two girls, ages 9 and 10. Her husband works in temporary services; Bonnie receives disability income.
Why are you homeless?: "I was living in my apartment for five years and my landlord wouldn't renew my lease, so we're homeless now. He gave me 30 days and I haven't been able to find an apartment. Right now we're staying in a hotel that Mary Jo [Copeland] paid for because she can't find housing in her shelter. ... A couple of nights ago we had to sleep in my minivan when it was storming because we couldn't find a hotel, because they were all full. ... We just found a house today, but we won't be able to move until the first of next month. We're just trying to survive until then."
Name: Mike Walsh Family status: Single. Why are you homeless?: "I was born in Minneapolis, but I lived about 11 years in the Bay Area. I came back here with my girlfriend, and things got a little bad, so now I'm just thinking about going back. I like it here, but it's a little hard to get started. It's really hard, actually, but I'm just trying to stay out of the whole get-high drugs scene. I can't do it... I've been staying in a shelter up the street. It's 3 bucks a night, and they give you a day free if you pay for a whole week, so it's 18 bucks a week. ... Some people from the state and county said come back tomorrow and possibly they're going to help me; it looks pretty good. They'd get me a bus ticket and some money, like 50 bucks."
Name: Gordon Brooks Family status: Single. Why are you homeless?: "I got no family so I can be homeless. I'm on disability for depression so I can't work. I been trying to find permanent housing, but I got a drug problem. It's mostly drinking and doing crack. I've been through treatment but it doesn't do any good."
Name: Hisham Abdul Family status: Single, has family members in Sudan, Africa, and one cousin in Minnesota. Why are you homeless?: "I moved here [from Sudan] in 2000. I heard there were good opportunities here. But I come here and find the situation is totally different. I've been at Harbor Lights [homeless shelter] for almost a year. I'm desperately trying to find a job but I lost my green card and all my identification through my homeless situation. Hopefully the situation will get better. I'll have a regular life. I'm actually looking for any kind of job. I think I would like to work at a gas station. But if your address is Harbor Lights, you won't get hired. I've been discriminated against. ... The number of homeless people in Minnesota is rising everyday. We need a fast solution. There are a lot of good people on the street."
Name: Elaine Sanders Family status: Single, two children ages two and three who are no longer in her custody. Why are you homeless?: "I was born in Indiana. From (age) seven to 18 I was in the system ... in foster homes. My parents were in St. Paul then. I started counseling with them and moved back with them. I got kicked out [for fighting with her stepmother]. I got an apartment a couple of times, but the building got condemned. For three or four months I rode the bus all night long between Minneapolis and St. Paul, but I got barred from that." Sanders is 23, she's been homeless off and on since she was 18.
Where do the homeless go?
1000 Currie Ave. - Catholic Charities - Branch II
1010 Currie Ave. - Salvation Army - Harbor Lights
251 Portland Ave. S. - People Serving People
416 S. 10th St. - Drake Hotel
173 Glenwood Ave. N - C.C. Glenwood residence
1200 2nd Ave. S - C.C. Dupont residence
53 Glenwood Ave. N - Sal. Army Hope Harbor
525 N. 7th St. - Mary's Place/Sharing & Caring Hands
245 Clifton Ave. - People Inc. - Nancy Page Program
519 Portland Ave. S.
Royalston & 5th Aves. - Encampment
Royalston Bridge - Encampment (underneath)
7th St. Bridge - Encampment (underneath)