In the midst of Minnesota’s massive heat wave, Mary Jo Copeland at Sharing and Caring Hands in Minneapolis and Gerry Lauer at the Dorothy Day Center in St. Paul said that they can’t blame the sweltering weather for the growing numbers of people coming in for help. However, the heat doesn’t help.
“I don’t think anybody realizes how hard it is to be poor, especially in the summer,” said Copeland, who founded and runs the Minneapolis shelter that feeds hundreds of people daily and houses many others in a 92-unit apartment building.
“I’m watching the Twins stadium across the street and you’ve got the whole wealth right across the street,” she said July 18. “Then you’ve got the other side that doesn’t have a can of tuna fish to eat. It’s just incredible the difference. I wish I could go over and say, ‘Why don’t you help me?’”
Although about 400 to 500 people were in the building on Monday, Copeland said that there has been a huge crowd every day since a tornado hit the northside May 22 and the state government shut down (At press time, the nearly three-week-old state government shutdown appeared to be nearing its end with Gov. Mark Dayton and legislators solidified a budget agreement.)
“After the tornado, they did three weeks of emergency help. Now that the emergency help is over, people are here by the droves,” she said. “They’ve lost their place and they can’t pay their rent” because they weren’t getting emergency assistance due to the shutdown.
“Now they are desperate,” she said. “The world doesn’t have any concept. I wish people could realize how hard it is to be poor.”
Although she is feeling overwhelmed by the need, she continues to see beyond the crowd to “one person at a time — that’s Jesus.”
Copeland said Sharing and Caring Hands can use bottles of water, fans, mattresses, volunteers and financial help. Although the lobbies in the buildings are air conditioned, the apartments are not.
Seeking a place to sleep
Lauer, senior program manager for Catholic Charities’ Dorothy Day Center, said the numbers of people seeking help and a place to sleep have been increasing for the past two years.
“Our night time numbers have been increasing over the last couple of months,” he said. “There was a lot of rain in June and that put a damper on people who were sleeping outside, so they came in.”
Unfortunately, Dorothy Day has had to turn away some folks a few days each month.
“We’re getting to the point where we’re maxing out the floor space here at Dorothy Day,” he said. “We really can’t put up any more people up safely.”
Lauer said he sees that as a precursor to the coming winter.
“We are real concerned and working to let people know and come up with some alternative plans,” he said. Although neither the hot weather or the government shutdown have greatly impacted their ability to help people, now, Lauer said he believes that may change.
“I think Catholic Charities was set up in a good place to carry some of this. We haven’t had to restrict our services, yet,” he said. But the longer the shutdown continues, the economy falters and charities carry the weight of the homeless, the more alternatives will be needed, he said.