St. Olaf throws Super Bowl party for homeless displaced by game security

| February 5, 2018 | 0 Comments

Volunteer Larry Ligocki of St. Olaf in Minneapolis talks with Niiki, a guest of a Super Bowl party Feb. 4 for the homeless hosted by St. Olaf. A shelter near U.S. Bank Stadium at First Covenant Church run by St. Stephen’s Human Services temporarily was moved to St. Olaf so that the guests could be outside of a secure area surrounding the stadium. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

A woman exclaimed, “Right there, that’s what I thought!” as she watched Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles throw the first touchdown of the Super Bowl Feb. 4.

Watching the game on a TV at St. Olaf in downtown Minneapolis, she cheered all the more when the Eagles were on defense, exclaiming “don’t let them get a touchdown” as they held the Patriots to a field goal on their first drive.

Later, she yelled “Yes,” as the Eagles broke up another pass by Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.

The woman, whose first name is Niiki, and 57 other homeless guests spent Feb. 1-4, Super Bowl weekend, at St. Olaf. Their stay concluded with a party for the game on their last night. They moved to St. Olaf for the weekend to accommodate the temporary closure of First Covenant Church’s shelter, run by St. Stephen’s Human Services, due to its close proximity to U.S. Bank Stadium, where the game was played, and the surrounding security perimeter.

“It went pretty smoothly. Folks were in pretty high spirits for most of the weekend,” said Michelle Perrin, a shelter advocate for St. Stephen’s Human Services.

St. Stephen’s, a non-religious organization in Minneapolis founded by parishioners of St. Stephen’s parish in Minneapolis, worked with St. Olaf on the move and cared for the guests during their stay. St. Stephen’s staff asked The Catholic Spirit to use only first names of their homeless guests.

Around 20 volunteers from St. Olaf served food throughout the weekend and visited with guests. Guests slept on mattresses, moved from First Covenant, in the St. Olaf social hall, a large room adorned with chandeliers and ornate candle wall sconces.

“This location is spectacular,” said Shawn, one of the guests. “I know this is a banquet room where I’m [staying], but they made it work.”

Stephany, also a guest, said she would look at the chandeliers as she fell asleep. She also found something more than a good night’s rest.

“I was really at peace when I came here,” Stephany said. “They [St. Olaf] had a lot of volunteers to just sit down and speak with you.”

Stephany said part of homelessness for her has been a healing process, which began with getting away from a domestic violence situation. Shawn’s path to homelessness resulted from rent payment issues. Melissa, a Boston native and Patriots fan, has been homeless for five years due to a poor rental history, although she has held a job.

“A lot of people have been doing this for so long, for so many years, it’s a cycle for them,” Melissa said about homelessness. “It’s hard to get out.”

St. Olaf parishioners have been engaged with outreach to the homeless beyond Super Bowl weekend. The parish has a Samaritan ministry that provides hospitality to the homeless, and the parish hosts Adult Shelter Connect, a resource program funded by Hennepin County. St. Olaf also owns the Exodus Residence, a transitional home for recently homeless people run by Catholic Charities of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

“That’s one of the main reasons why I like to come to St. Olaf — the very strong commitment to the homeless,” said Margaret Lauer, a parishioner of St. Olaf who volunteered for the Super Bowl party.

Among St. Olaf’s volunteers for the weekend were new parishioners Sam and Beth Baldwin, who jumped on board to help. They recently moved to Minneapolis and wanted to learn more about serving and understanding people experiencing homelessness.

“It’s very, very pleasant [to work with them],” Sam Baldwin said. “People are really nice and they’re smiling.”

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