What do you think when you drive up to the stoplight at the entrance ramp to I-94 at Riverside and see someone with a cardboard sign asking for help? Often we look down to adjust the radio to avoid making eye contact. We might roll down the window and hand over a dollar bill or a few coins. Monica Nilsson, director of community engagement at St. Stephens Human Services, came to our July SCCA meeting to discuss homelessness in our community. Her suggestion is never to give money or food to panhandlers, which just encourages that behavior. Instead, she recommends calling the St Stephens street outreach program and informing them about the individual’s condition and location. Their phone number is 612-879-7624. If you’d like a small pamphlet that includes phone numbers for a variety of homeless service providers, please stop by Redesign (2619 East Franklin) to get one.
The recession has compounded the issue of homelessness by diminishing resources from social services at the same time as joblessness increases. Law enforcement is often the primary avenue addressing this social problem due to insufficient funding for more holistic social service programs. Homeless individuals often suffer from untreated mental health or chemical dependence which the criminal justice system is poorly equipped to address, not to mention being more expensive. The St Stephens Street Outreach Program is partnering with law enforcement, faith communities, businesses, and courts to decrease street homelessness, reduce arrests when social services would be more effective, and to provide housing opportunities and long-term support.
Street outreach teams respond to non-emergency calls regarding homeless individuals. These outreach members are then dispatched, establish contact with the individual and try to give them access to emergency resources such as food, shelter and clothing. Their next goal is to connect individuals to mental health resources and stable housing. If you are interested in making more of a difference then just giving a dollar or a sandwich, St Stephens is always in need of volunteers, click here. There are also many more organizations that are in need of donation or volunteer work that are more specific to women, chemical abuse, youth homelessness and homelessness in MN.
The SCCA is also considering working as an organization to identify ways we can continue to help. Is your business interested in organizing to donate food or time to contribute to the solution? Please let us know your ideas at email@example.com.