Mayor to faith communities: ’We have to act right now’
Everyone from adults to children are at risk of becoming homeless. This ominous fact was voiced during this year’s Super Bowl opening weekend when Downtown Congregations to End Homelessness (DCEH) hosted an interfaith gathering Sunday afternoon at Westminster Presbyterian Church on Nicollet Mall. The group, a collaboration of 14 local churches, synagogues and mosques located downtown and near downtown Minneapolis, joined together to end homelessness and poverty through education, advocacy and action.
The nearly two-hour “Bold Hope in the North” interfaith program featured J.D. and Fred Steele and others to benefit the organization’s $250,000 goal for its Emergency Rental Assistance Fund. The fund helps individuals and families facing eviction from their homes. According to a DCEH fact sheet, 80 percent of families that received assistance from the program have remained housed after six months.
DCEH was started about 10 years ago, Westminster Presbyterian Church Senior Pastor Tim Hart-Andersen told the MSR before the event. “We got rabbis, ministers, priests, pastors and imams from a variety of traditions coming together” to address the homelessness problem, Hart-Andersen stressed. “They not only get along but do something good for the public, for the common good.
“Minnesota is a state where people of different religious traditions can get along,” Hart-Andersen continued. “We are using the occasion of the Super Bowl to demonstrate to the world that is watching Minneapolis, the Twin Cities, and the whole state…to show our unity across these traditions to the world, and at the same time do some good for the community.
“We discovered that if we can help somebody with just one rent check when they hit a crisis in their family or an employment crisis, six months later after that one rent check [they] are still in their home,” Hart-Andersen said. “It keeps them in their home and out of the shelter.”
“This is the crucial issue of our time,” Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, who emceed Sunday’s event, told the packed sanctuary.
Speaking to reporters beforehand, including the MSR, the mayor said, “It is time for us to do something. Affordable housing is my number-one priority as mayor. I want to make sure that we aren’t just talking about [it] but doing something. We have to act.
“Minneapolis can’t go it alone,” Frey said. “We have to partner with nonprofits, the faith community and other jurisdictions to tackle this crisis head-on. This is a problem we all need to address, not just those who can’t pay their rent. Rents are going through the roof. We need to stand up for those who are struggling to pay the rent.”
Super Bowl visitors “virtually have taken over the city,” Markum El-Amin, the imam of Masjid An-Nur in North Minneapolis, told the MSR. He was a participant at Sunday’s event. “I think bringing some attention to this issue at such a festive time with the NFL descending on the city, and lots of money being spent by lots of people from all over the world, we wanted to make certain that [homeless] voices don’t go unheard,” he said.
“A lot of our work is centered around the lack of resources, a warm home, [and] a hot meal,” El-Amin noted on his involvement with the DCEH. “There are so many of us who work with this population, who know what it is to lack resources. Every one of us can do something. None of us can do everything. This is our attempt to rally for this particular homeless population, and everyone can do something to effect change in a positive way.”
Nolan Johnson, who plans to attend Normandale Community College later this year, was a teenage “couch hopper” from Chicago several years ago. She told the gathering, “I had to personally make friends in order to find a place to stay at night.”
Now Johnson has graduated from high school and since August 2015 enjoys stable housing thanks to the DCEH Fund. “I thought I would be still on the streets,” declared the 21-year-old woman. Instead, she got an internship at a nearby bakery to help pay her rent, and “I’ve been a baker ever since.”
Mayor Frey told the MSR, “We know that people of color are disproportionately deprived of housing for discriminatory reasons, socio-economic reasons. When you have a community so disproportionally impacted by lack of housing, we need to do something for fairness sake.”
The Emergency Rental Assistance Fund “will be critical for keeping people in their homes that are struggling to get by and are on the brink of experiencing homelessness,” Frey pointed out. “If we are to act, we have to act right now.”
“We are going to keep doing it after the Super Bowl is over,” Hart-Andersen pledged on DCEH’s work.
“This is where we live out our faith out loud,” said El-Amin. “I am happy to be a part of it for the Muslim community.”
For more information on the DCEH Emergency Rental Assistance Fund, visit www.dceh.org.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.