|Written by Jacob Croonenberghs,
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Homelessness is one of the enduring problems of metropolitan life, and Minneapolis is no exception. While the city of Minneapolis and local organizations help everyone, no matter what race, gender, or nationality they are, one particularly painful truth is that Native American Elders are sometimes forced to live on the streets.
Janet Stately, The program director in the Senior Department of the American Indian Center (MAIC), deals with homeless Elders every day.
"One of the problems facing our Elders is the fact that in our culture there is a lot of extended family to take care of," Stately said. "Many of the high rises in the area do not allow multiple kids to live in the one or two bedroom apartments they offer. What that does is it essentially excludes grandfathers who are taking care of many grandchildren. They've taken in family members, and they're not going to put their family out in the street."
"Maybe they've had to move for some reason or another. If it's not subsidized housing, maybe another barrier is first month's rent. Sometimes they just don't have the money to keep going."
The Senior Department attempts to bridge that gap that puts some elders on the street; sometimes it's as simple as a health reason; sometimes it's a complex process that involves eligibility for subsidized housing. The Senior Department is there to help Elders sort out the issues that are keeping them on the street.
"I've had an Elder who had taken a fall; she had to go in for rehab, and when she came out months later her apartment was gone. We had to help her find new housing, but that takes time."
Yet for all the help Stately and her department do, there are hurdles as well. "There's not enough assisted living to go around," Stately said. "And social security can't cover the expenses. I don't know all the ins and outs of Medicaid, but it seems to me this isn't the time to be pulling the plug on seniors. The baby boomers are about to retire, and I'm very afraid of what's going to happen with the legislation [in Minnesota]."
"What we do is help elders to overcome some of the barriers these elders have in finding a place to live. Financial advice, assisted living, even just helping our elders find their way through the transportation system, we can help with that. We do the best we can." said Stately. "The services we provide... are invaluable. Many of these elders are mostly self-sufficient; even if it's just helping them carry groceries, or getting on the bus, these little chores we can do for elders help them to live independently, which is much less expensive than living in a nursing home. They just need a little help. If we keep losing funding for the agencies that are helping elders, we'd better watch out because there will be some huge nursing bills for the state."
One example of an elder Stately has helped is Fred Armell, a HoChunk Native from Wisconsin.
Armelll said, "Well, after I had gotten out of prison, I had gone to a halfway house, then I lived in a house with some friends, but I just felt I just wanted to be free... I dug a hole and put some brush over it. I lived there for three and a half years, and then I was kicked out by the park board. I kept my camp nice and neat, but they said I had to go."
"I always made a shelter, even though I was homeless. I was clean on the streets, and my faith became stronger. When you have nothing, whatever you get is a gift," Armell said.
One of Armell's passions has always been art. His talent over the years has been recognized in ads for the Hennepin County Adoptive Services.
"They got a hold of me and asked if I wanted to do some drawings for an ad for adoption," Armell said. "I was living in the parking lot and got a hold of [Hennepin Adoptive Services]. I carry a lot of art in my van now."
Armell also discussed his views on homelessness. "People are scared of homeless people. But really, we're all part of God. I think most homeless people have been hurt, whether its alcohol, or fighting, or drugs. Even in the winter time you can see blankets where the homeless are sleeping in the snow... under the bridges, you can find them. All they're trying to do is not feel the hurt they have inside."
But now Armell lives in an apartment of his own. "It was Janet Stately. She helped me apply for an apartment and get off the streets. I got into the high rises on fifteenth and park. She gave me direction because most of my life has been on the streets. I have a phone now. To have my own shower, my own stove. To have light, these little things make a world of difference to me," he said.
The Senior Department works with homeless elders 55 years and over to get them into public housing; and works with elders over 62 years old to get them into elder's lodging. It is subsidy based income so elders pay 1/3 of their income for rent.
The Senior Department located in the MAIC at 1530 E. Franklin Ave. in Minneapolis. For more information, contact the Senior Department at 612-879-1770.