As temps drop, shelters for those experiencing homelessness are filling up- Here’s what 1 shelter is doing to help

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For anyone living outside or in a tent this weekend, this latest cold snap is much more than an inconvenience.

It can be life-threatening.

“It’s pretty intense, you know?” declares Damon Applebee, who has experienced homelessness at periods in his life. “What can you say, being out in the cold is being out in the cold.”

Applebee is one of 50 people spending Saturday night at Homeward Bound, a shelter in the Little Earth neighborhood.

A second shelter can hold up to 30 people.

Both facilities are run by the American Indian Community Development Corporation, a Minneapolis non-profit.

“Tonight this will all be full,” explains Homeward Bound manager Mike Forcia. “Every single night here, we are full whenever it gets cold, and we also run the shelter across the street and the same thing there.”

Just across Hiawatha Avenue, next to East Phillips Park, is a small encampment.

Forcia says for some of those living there, Homeward Bound can be a respite when temperatures plummet.

“We do have people who are in the encampments who will run to the shelters before they fill up,” he notes. “The ones who don’t make it, they’re back in the encampment. Now, when it gets really cold, we’ll allow people to come in and sit on this one side, just to warm up. They want something to eat, make sure they get a pair of gloves, and some hand warmers.”

The National Weather Service, which has issued a wind chill advisory for the metro, says overnight wind chills could drop to 25 degrees below zero.

NWS says those conditions could cause frostbite on exposed skin in about 30 minutes.

“It’s pretty nippy out,” Applebee says. “I mean (Homeward Bound) opens their doors here for warm and shelter when it gets like this.”

According to the Homelessness Management Information System, a database used by advocacy groups, more than 7,900 Minnesotans will experience homelessness on any given night.

Of that, nearly 2,200 people are living in Hennepin County, according to the Office to End Homelessness.

Santana Vessels, who’s been staying at Homeward Bound for several months, says that without the shelter he’d be, “back there in the tents.”  

Vessels says the shelter has complete bathrooms including showers, a laundry, and separate sleeping facilities for men and women.

“This place is amazing,” he exclaims. “It’s a blessing, saving lives and keeping us warm, feeding us.”

Outside Homeward Bound is a prototype tiny home — part of a larger, more ambitious plan, Forcia says.

The idea by staffers is to build and place 75 of the single-person structures in East Phillips Park.

Forcia says he’s been working to get support from Minneapolis City Council members and several state officials.

He says carpenters in the Native American community have expressed interest in helping out.  

But the immediate issue, he says, is to shelter as many people as possible, until this latest cold snap subsides.

“Right now we have an award-winning architect drawing up the plans for a tiny home village in East Phillips Park,” Forcia says. “To me that’s the solution to shut down the encampments here on the south side, and to get those people healed. To get my people healed.”

Resources for those experiencing homelessness in Hennepin County can be found here.