Why do we live in Northeast? The area is pretty, we have a lot of neat parks, and the homes are nice; however, not everyone who lives in Northeast has a home here. Some people live under the bridges or on the park benches, and it’s getting to be a cold time of year to have nowhere to go.
There are homeless shelters throughout Minneapolis, especially downtown, but many of the people Pastor Becky Hanson of Elim Church has talked to say they stay away from downtown (and Northside) for their own safety. In the basement of Elim, there’s a safe street where they can get away from the cold: Hope Avenue.
Elim’s Hope Avenue program offers ministry and resources to the homeless on Sundays, and cold weather emergency shelter only when temperatures are below -12 ºF, according to their website. They offer free clothing, and serve roughly 200 meals a week, continuing their tradition of homeless advocacy dating back to the mid-1980s.
“It has been an agonizing growth for Hope Avenue as we have brought more and more people through our door,” said Hanson, who ran a forum offering information about Elim’s services and the homelessness epidemic in the U.S. in general on the evening of Oct. 24.
Hanson admitted that she herself was dubious about homelessness being a pressing issue in the Northeast community when she first began getting involved in Hope Avenue. She was reluctant to acknowledge that she hadn’t noticed a problem in the community where she’d lived for over 20 years, but she was inspired by the actions of her congregation.
“It’s so innocuous. We think that we don’t have homelessness in Northeast,” she said.
Back in 1983, Elim Church ran a transitional housing program meant to guide people from the streets and into more permanent homes. They were a model for legislation surrounding transitional housing at the time, but the program ceased operations after a 30-year run. Hope Avenue is an echo of that program, and has been running for the past 13 years. It started as a street ministry, bringing church services out onto the streets, but the model shifted more towards bringing people from the streets into the church instead. Hanson said she has thought about moving Hope Avenue ministries from Sundays to Saturdays, but the general consensus from the rest of the congregation was to keep the schedule as is.
“They wanted to continue worshiping with their brothers and sisters from the streets,” said Hanson.
Hope Avenue partners with several other advocacy organizations to push back against homelessness. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, they host Tasks Unlimited, a mental healthcare organization that supports their guests, and they are looking at becoming a host for another chapter of the Metropolitan Interfaith Council on Affordable Housing (MICAH), a homelessness advocacy group that serves the greater metro area. MICAH meets on Tuesdays at various locations throughout the metro, and will add Elim to their growing network. Transitional housing program Envision also works with Elim, and will be demonstrating one of their tiny homes there.
Elim runs seven other emergency shelters across the city, though they only open when the weather gets dangerously cold. Hennepin County contacts them when the temperature drops below -11 degrees and requests they open their shelters.
As for their Hope Avenue project, they wish it could stay open all week during cold periods, but they lack the resources to maintain a seven-day-a-week facility. They would also require a conditional use permit from the city were they to operate longer-term.
Hope Avenue is a sober shelter; no alcohol is allowed inside, and anyone who arrives drunk is brought to another shelter. They also have no tolerance for bigotry: a problem Hanson said has cropped up in the past. Racial denigration of any kind results in a swift ban from Hope Avenue. The doors of the shelter lock after 10 pm, and anyone inside remains there for the evening. Though the church’s community is supportive of Hope Avenue’s mission, Hanson said they and the shelter run on opposite schedules, so there is no interaction between Hope Avenue and the preschool or other services of the church.
Hanson said that she wishes there was a women’s only facility and social services available within Northeast, since many of the people she works with won’t go to downtown shelters, but Hope Avenue tries to cover whatever bases it can.
“We are a Northeast church in a Northeast neighborhood,” said Hanson. “We hope to be a good neighbor.”
In addition to their breakfasts and ministry on Sundays, they also have a clothes closet people can pick from. Elim accepts donations for their clothing supply, and they gladly accept both new and used items of any size and variety, though Hanson said that they often run out of XXL and other larger sizes. This time of year, they’re looking for socks and coats especially.