However, the event will likely draw sexual predators
Millions of people are expected to converge on the Twin Cities this week, the epicenter of the sporting world’s biggest stage — Super Bowl 52. But what about the area’s homeless, especially in downtown Minneapolis where the game and most of the public and private activities are being held?
“There will be homeless [people] before, during and after [the game],” declares Gail Dorfman, executive director of St. Stephen’s Shelter, the 50-to-60-bed shelter at First Covenant Church, located just a block north of the Vikings downtown stadium.
Reportedly, two years ago, homeless advocates accused San Diego officials of trying to hide the city’s homeless around the baseball park when they hosted Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game. Dorfman, a former Hennepin County commissioner, said in an MSR interview at her office that she and other local homeless advocates had similar concerns that this might happen in Minneapolis as well.
But the Super Bowl Host Committee listened. Dorfman was impressed with the committee’s reaction: “I have to admit we walked in there with a bit of cynicism, thinking that they were really more interested in making sure that homeless people weren’t seen. That hasn’t been their response at all. They have been very respectful; we’ve had lots of meetings with them. We’ve been pleasantly surprised.”
However, the St. Stephen’s shelter will be closed this week for four nights leading up to Super Bowl Sunday because it is within the Super Bowl’s “security perimeter.” Dorfman explained that U.S. Homeland Security wanted shelter participants’ names at least a month in advance for security clearance, which she aptly points out was nearly impossible. “We don’t know who is going to be there a month ahead of time.”
As a result, St. Olaf Catholic Church, a few blocks away, will serve as a shelter beginning February 1. “The [Minnesota Super Bowl] Host Committee is paying for the relocation,” Dorfman noted. “We think it will work very well.”
Dorfman was also concerned about homeless folk being unnecessarily hassled during Super Bowl events because many carry backpacks, which are subject to search. The outdoor activities are “open to everybody, including people who are homeless. They want to go and enjoy the festivities, too.
“We don’t want to see people who are homeless being unfairly targeted because they carry their backpacks with them. It’s their belongings in there. We wanted to make sure that all the additional security weren’t targeting people who are homeless, who are our neighbors. They have every right to be celebrating with us.”
As Dorfman pointed out, there is no prototypical homeless person. “There is a lot of misunderstanding of the homeless and why are they homeless. Everybody’s story is different. They’ve become homeless for a range of reasons from jobless to divorce, to domestic abuse, mental illness, chemical dependency, [and] veterans who have PTSD.”
The age of homeless people varies as well, from youth to seniors. “It [homelessness] has doubled in the past year,” Dorfman continued. “We have three individuals in our shelter over the age of 90.”
Dorfman stressed, “Because we don’t have enough shelter capacity, we see people out on the street. We see…a couple of hundred almost every night in the winter riding trains and buses because at least it is warm and it’s lit.” The summertime can be just as hard for the homeless, she added, when “It gets real, real hot.”
“Some people don’t want to go to shelters” because of the lack of privacy, she said. “Some have mental health issues. Some people choose to ride the trains or stay outside.” Also, because most shelters are for single adults, homeless couples choose to ride the train so they can stay together.
“The biggest gap right now is not in the number of shelter beds. The biggest gap right now is not enough affordable housing,” Dorfman said.
While many are coming to the Cities for the Super Bowl and related events, others are coming for other reasons. YouthLink is working with NFL representatives and law enforcement to help keep young people safe on downtown streets during Super Bowl week because of the expected “spike” in the sex trade.
“The Super Bowl historically in every [host] city sees a rise in very organized efforts to reach out to young people to actively recruit [them] for sexual exploitation,” Dr. Heather Huseby, YouthLink executive director, explained. Huseby, Intervention Program Manager Anastasia Kramlinger, and Street Outreach Supervisor Jose Acuna last week talked to the MSR about youth homelessness and their organization’s goal to protect all vulnerable young people “from the opportunists and predators who seek to exploit them.”
Huseby reported that over 95 percent of homeless youth that YouthLink regularly serves are of color, over 85 percent of these Black. “Most of these youths have been through some kind of trauma. [Some] have been exploited sexually in some way, in their homes or wherever.”
“Any sporting or large event comes into an area, the potential for commercial sexual exploitation rises, and that’s based on the demand,” Kramlinger pointed out. “This is an issue all the time. We want to make sure people are aware that this is something that goes on 365 days a year.
“We see these young people as victims. We are treating these individuals as victims. It is not a victimless crime,” Kramlinger notes, those who call those exploiting young people for sex “situational abusers.”
“Situational abusers…would like to do something they would not be able to do under normal circumstances.” Unfortunately, this puts many youth of color at risk because the majority of purchasers tend to be middle-aged White males. The individuals who are purchasing sex are likely to have already [done this before].
“It’s big events like [the Super Bowl] that draw people who want to participate in this for the first time. Most of these are people who are well seasoned in purchasing sex and know how to get away with it.”
Acuna added, some actually open up a “legitimate” business weeks leading up to the big event: “They open a new bar and have a license for everything. They hire girls and bring [in] girls from different places. A couple of months later, the bar closes,” he said.
The Twin Cities homeless problem and human trafficking are, sadly, everyday issues. “You have to keep talking about it and keep educating people,” Dorfman said. “The Super Bowl offers another opportunity to raise awareness.”
Kramlinger concluded that the Super Bowl puts a light on human trafficking. “I really think community members need to be able to see something that is happening every day, all day. It could be their niece, a neighbor.”
Those in need of shelter can contact St. Olaf Church (single adults) at 612-248-2350; families, 612-348-9410; and unaccompanied youth, 612-377-8800. If you spot trafficking, contact YouthLink at 612-252-1200.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to email@example.com
Charles Hallman is a contributing writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org