“Most of us think of the guy on the corner [when we think of the homeless],” says Wendy Wiegmann the Simpson Shelter’s Director of Programs. “But most are children and women with children.”
Children are 35 percent of the homeless in Minnesota according to the Wilder Foundations’ most recent Homeless Study. Their research shows that those age 24 or younger are the most likely to be homeless in Minnesota.
They might not have walls of a home, they might sleep under bridges, but they are not nameless or faceless.
In September I visited with Rahimah. When her brother and mother became ill she left her steady job to care for them. “In the process we lost homes and cars, but that was the choice I made,” she says. “If someone would have told me over 20 years ago that I would encounter homelessness I would have never believed them. Never. It can happen to anyone. It doesn’t take very long.”
I also spoke with Brenda, who had a stroke in 2008 and has high blood pressure. When her husband died things became difficult and she made some bad choices. Bills caught up with her and she became homeless. She quit taking her blood pressure medication because it is expensive. For a while she slept in abandoned garages, losing two toes one winter. Sometimes she has had nowhere to go and no food for days. “It is degrading. It takes a lot from you. I got robbed and beaten,” she says.
People who are homeless age more quickly according to Wiegmann. “They are in survival mode and not able to take care of their health as much as others can.”
In December 1984, the Simpson United Methodist Church’s pastor, shelter staff, volunteers and the family of a man who had recently died while homeless held a memorial service. The man was described as a quiet Vietnam war veteran. He had been beaten to death. The following year the Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless joined with them, expanding it to an annual memorial and including the names of homeless people who had died in the previous year.
In the mid-1990s a march was added to help raise awareness of homelessness in Minnesota. Each year marchers carry signs with the name, age and hometown of each person being honored. The current march route is from the Hennepin County Government Center – where many funding and policy decisions affecting the homeless are made – to Simpson United Methodist Church.
At the Service of Remembrance a candle is lit for each person being honored. A community turkey dinner made by a United Methodist Church in Minnetonka follows at the shelter. “It’s a great place to sit and break down walls and communicate and share a meal,” says Wiegmann. “We can hear stories and get to know people and that is where thinking differently happens.”
The public is invited to join the march and memorial. See details in the sidebar.
Submit a name
If you know someone who was homeless, formerly homeless or an advocate for the homeless community who passed away in 2016, please use the form on SimpsonHousing.org to let them know.