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

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.

Minnesotans brave the cold to see snow sculptures at Winter Carnival

A variety of events are happening around St. Paul for the 2023 Winter Carnival.

Artists and onlookers are braving the cold at the State Fairgrounds to see the giant snow sculptures.

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS reporter Andrea Lyon takes us to the snow sculpting contest. The full story can be viewed in the video player above.

Activists call on Minnesota lawmakers to be ‘example of change’ following video release of police beating Tyre Nichols

Two-and-a-half years after Minneapolis led a rallying cry against police brutality following the murder of George Floyd, activists Saturday asked for change as the nation again works to digest a Black man’s fatal encounter with law enforcement; this time, the beating of Tyre Nichols by Memphis police officers.

Twin Cities activists held a press conference to discuss the body camera footage of the incident released Friday night and to “stand in solidarity with the people of Memphis and Mr. Nichols’ family.” Leaders with Communities United Against Police Brutality (CUAPB), Minnesota Justice Coalition and six other related organizations took to the podium to say they want to see a change to laws surrounding policing. They also say, Minnesota has an obligation to set that example.

“People want to believe that there is something you can do to prevent yourself from being killed in these situations. It appears that Mr. Nichols did just about everything that you could do to comply, and yet it did not save him,” CUAPB president Michelle Gross said, opening up the dialogue.

Jaylani Hussein, executive director of CAIR Minnesota, called Nichols’ death a “tax-paid murder.”

“We have to do something. We have been saying that since the murder of George Floyd,” he said.

Calls for change rang through the small room, from speaker after speaker, with raw, personal stories of lost loved ones.

“This is why change is needed in legislatures around the country to rein in an out-of-control system that will come to a neighborhood near you,” Johnathon McClellan, president of the Minnesota Justice Coalition, said.

Law enforcement in the U.S. killed at least 1,186 people in 2022, according to non-profit research group Mapping Police Violence, marking the deadliest year in the last decade, which is as long as the data has been tracked by the organization.

“We’re out here pleading for help. We’re begging for help. Move, move, move,” Families Supporting Families Against Police Violence founder Toshira Garraway said, calling on state government with increasing intensity.

Gov. Tim Walz on Twitter called the footage that shows the beating of Tyre Nichols “horrifying.”

“As we grapple with the pain of another Black life lost at the hands of law enforcement, we must recommit to stopping this pattern of violence — both in Minnesota and across the country,” the tweet read.

The organizations that gathered Saturday have been asking for the same legislative changes since 2020, Gross said.

“The bills that we’re asking for would do things like end qualified immunity, would create an independent investigatory and prosecutorial body for police deadly force incidents, would end the prohibition on civilian oversight in the state and would enable, you know, mental health crisis to be the primary response,” Gross said in an interview with 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS following the press conference.

“No one has even just talked about any of the bills that we brought forward. Bills such as making body camera footage available within 48 hours,” McClellan added.

Gross and McClellan plan to sit down with lawmakers as early as Monday about that package of police reform bills, they said.

Since George Floyd’s murder in 2020, Legislature has passed a series of police reforms, including:

  • New use of force reporting requirements
  • Banning choke-holds and warrior-style training
  • More training for police for dealing with people with mental health issues
  • Adding a state advisory committee with citizens on it to make recommendations to the Post Board

Despite these changes, efforts to end qualified immunity have not moved forward.

2 juveniles hit by car in Bloomington, hospitalized; driver arrested

Police say two juveniles were hospitalized after they were hit by a car Friday night in Bloomington.

According to Bloomington police, it happened at around 6:10 p.m. in the area of 78th Street and 12th Avenue.

There, officers found the two juveniles — who police believe to be in their teens — lying in the roadway.

Authorities classified the boy’s injuries as “critical” and the girl’s as “severe.”

A short distance away, police found the vehicle believed to have hit the teens and arrested the 27-year-old driver on suspicion of driving while intoxicated.

The crash remains under investigation and police are asking anyone who saw what happened to call 952-563-4900.

Tyre Nichols video shows brutal 3-minute beating by police

Memphis authorities released video footage Friday showing Tyre Nichols being beaten by police officers who held the Black motorist down and repeatedly struck him with their fists, boots and batons as he screamed for his mother and pleaded, “I just want to go home.”

The video is filled with violent moments showing the officers, who are also Black, chasing and pummeling Nichols and leaving him on the pavement propped against a squad car as they fist-bumped and celebrated their actions.

The footage emerged one day after the officers were charged with murder in Nichols’ death. The chilling images of another Black man being beaten to death by police provoked tough questions about the nation’s policing culture and raised the specter of renewed protests less than three years after a wave of demonstrations wracked the country.

The recordings shows police savagely beating the 29-year-old FedEx worker for three minutes while screaming profanities at him throughout the attack. The Nichols family legal team has likened the assault to the infamous 1991 police beating of Los Angeles motorist Rodney King.

WARNING: The video below contains footage that may be disturbing to some viewers. The videos released by the City of Memphis can be viewed in their entirety here.

After the first officer roughly pulls Nichols out of a car, Nichols can be heard saying, “I didn’t do anything,” as a group of officers begins to wrestle him to the ground.

“Get on the ground!,” one officer yells, as another is heard yelling “Tase him! Tase him!”

Nichols calmly replied soon after being wrestled to the pavement, “OK, I’m on the ground.” Moments later, as the officers continue to yell, Nichols says, “Man, I am on the ground.”

An officer yells, “Put your hands behind your back before I break your (expletive).” Moments later, an officer yells, “(Expletive), put your hands behind your back before I break them.”

“You guys are really doing a lot right now,” Nichols says loudly to the officers. “I’m just trying to go home.”

“Stop, I’m not doing anything,” he yells moment later.

The camera is briefly obscured, and then Nichols can be seen running as an officer fires a Taser at him. The officers then start chasing Nichols.

Other officers are called and a search ensues before Nichols is caught at another intersection. The officers beat him again, this time using a baton, kicking and punching him.

Security camera footage shows three officers surrounding Nichols as he lies in the street cornered between police cars, with a fourth officer nearby.

Two officers hold Nichols to the ground as he moves about, and then the third appears to kick him in the head. Nichols slumps more fully onto the pavement with all three officers surrounding him. The same officer kicks him again.

The fourth officer then walks over, unfurls a baton and holds it up at shoulder level as two officers hold Nichols upright, as if he were sitting.

“I’m going to baton the f— out you,” one officer can be heard saying. His body camera shows him raise his baton while at least one other officer holds Nichols. The officer strikes Nichols on the back with the baton. He strikes strikes him again, and then a third time.

The other officers then appear to hoist Nichols to his feet, with him flopping like a doll, barely able to stay upright despite the bracing arms.

An officer then punches him in the face, as the officer with the baton continues to menace him. Nichols stumbles and turns, still held up by two officers. The officer who punched him then walks around to Nichols’ front and punches him three more times. Then Nichols collapses.

Two officers can then be seen atop Nichols on the ground, with a third nearby, for about 40 seconds. Three more officers then run up and one can be seen kicking Nichols on the ground.

At one point, as Nichols is slumped up against a car and none of the officers are rendering aid, the body camera footage shows a first-person view of one of them reaching down and tying his shoe.

It takes more than 20 minutes after Nichols is beaten and on the pavement before any sort of medical attention is provided to him, even though two fire department officers arrived on the scene with medical equipment within 10 minutes.

Cities across the country braced for large demonstrations. Nichols’ relatives urged supporters to protest peacefully.

Memphis Police Director Cerelyn Davis described the officers’ actions as “heinous, reckless and inhumane,” and said that her department has been unable to substantiate the reckless driving allegation that prompted the stop.

She told The Associated Press in an interview that there is no video of the traffic stop that shows Nichols recklessly driving.

During the initial stop, the video shows the officers were “already ramped up, at about a 10,” she said. The officers were “aggressive, loud, using profane language and probably scared Mr. Nichols from the very beginning.”

Nichols’ mother, RowVaughn Wells, warned supporters of the “horrific” nature of the video but pleaded for peace.

“I don’t want us burning up our city, tearing up the streets, because that’s not what my son stood for,” she said Thursday. “If you guys are here for me and Tyre, then you will protest peacefully.”

Speaking at the White House, President Joe Biden said Friday that he was “very concerned” about the prospect of violence and called for protests to remain peaceful.

Biden said he spoke with Nichols’ mother earlier in the day and told her that he was going to be “making a case” to Congress to pass the George Floyd Act “to get this under control.” The legislation, which has been stalled, is meant to tackle police misconduct and excessive force and boost federal and state accountability efforts.

Court records showed that all five former officers — Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Desmond Mills Jr., Emmitt Martin III and Justin Smith — were taken into custody.

The officers each face charges of second-degree murder, aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping, official misconduct and official oppression. Four of the five officers had posted bond and been released from custody by Friday morning, according to court and jail records.

Second-degree murder is punishable by 15 to 60 years in prison under Tennessee law.

Patrick Yoes, the national president of the Fraternal Order of Police, condemned the alleged actions of the Memphis officers.

“The event as described to us does not constitute legitimate police work or a traffic stop gone wrong. This is a criminal assault under the pretext of law,” Yoes said in a statement.

Rallies and demonstrations were planned Friday night in Memphis, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, New York City, Portland, Oregon and Washington.

New York Mayor Eric Adams, a former police officer, said he and other mayors across the country had been briefed by the White House in advance of the video’s release, which he said would “trigger pain and sadness in many of us. It will make us angry.”

Romanucci and civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who also represents Nichols’ family, called on the police chief to disband the department’s so-called scorpion unit focused on street crime.

Davis said other officers are still being investigated for violating department policy. In addition, she said “a complete and independent review” will be conducted of the department’s specialized units, without providing further details.

As state and federal investigations continue, Davis promised the police department’s “full and complete cooperation.”

Minnesota Senate approves reproductive rights bill

After around 15 hours of debate that stretched into the early hours of Saturday morning, Minnesota lawmakers have given final approval to a reproductive rights bill.

Debate in the Minnesota Senate wrapped up at around 3 a.m. before senators voted 34-33 to pass the “Protect Reproductive Options (PRO) Act.”

In addition to full abortion protections, the legislation is also written to protect sterilization, family planning, pre-conception and maternity care.

Since the bill passed the Minnesota House last week, it will now head to Gov. Tim Walz’s desk to be signed into law.

“Here in Minnesota, we hold dear that we all have a fundamental right to make autonomous decisions about our own reproductive healthcare,” Sen. Jen McEwen (DFL-Duluth), the lead author of the legislation, said in a statement. “Today, the Minnesota Senate demonstrated that we will not simply put our faith in individual judges to uphold our rights and freedoms – we will also enshrine those rights into state statute. Minnesotans now have an affirmative right to make their own decisions about reproductive health care. I’m proud to have taken this step today, and we will continue to advance legislation to ensure Minnesotans have meaningful access to the care they need.”

Republicans have called the bill “extreme” and tried to amend the bill to include several restrictions — including a ban on third-trimester abortions, prohibiting dilation and evacuation abortions and requiring parental notification — but failed to gain enough support.

“Today we are not codifying Roe v. Wade or Doe v. Gomez, we are enacting the most extreme bill in the country regarding youth sterilization, late-term abortions, and public liability for a vast array of reproductive services,” Senate Minority Leader Mark Johnson (R-East Grand Forks) said in a statement. “All this with just a one-seat majority. A casual observer would think Minnesota voters gave democrats a significant majority and mandate to ram through radical and extreme legislation that will fundamentally change the lives of everyday Minnesotans.

“Today Minnesota Senate Republicans demonstrated, through a series of good faith amendments, the significant and devastating shortcomings of this bill. I’m very disappointed our amendments to restrict late-term, saline, and dismemberment abortions, protect minors from dangerous abusers, and defend the lives of babies with Down syndrome were all rejected by every Democrat in the Senate. It really is the most extreme abortion bill, not just in the state, but in the world.”

Gov. Walz is expected to sign the bill, which the DFL prioritized since the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, early next week.

The governor and lieutenant governor both tweeted Saturday morning about the bill.

15-year-old hurt in shooting near rec center on St. Paul’s East Side

Police say a 15-year-old was taken to the hospital after he was shot in the neck Friday evening on the East Side of St. Paul.

The shooting happened around 6:30 p.m. at the intersection of Conway Avenue and Pederson Street, near the Conway Recreation Center.

According to the St. Paul Police Department, the victim was conscious and breathing when medics took him to Regions Hospital for treatment. As of Saturday morning, police said the teen was in critical condition but he was considered stable.

Police say they’re still investigating what led to the shooting. No arrests have been made.

This shooting comes after a teenage boy was shot last week outside Jimmy Lee Recreation Center in the city’s Summit-University neighborhood.

“They were just one of so many million — that’s my family’s story.”: Minnesota observes Holocaust Remembrance Day

Friday was International Holocaust Remembrance Day — remembering millions of Jews murdered by the Nazis.

Jan. 27 is also the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the largest German Nazi concentration camp.

“So they were young children, and they were just one of so many million,” recalls Judi Shink, showing a black and white photo of three kids. “But that’s my family’s story. My four grandparents survived the Holocaust, but most of their family did not.”

Shink, raised in Milwaukee but now living in Wayzata, shared stories with 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS about her family’s fate during the Holocaust.

Her four grandparents somehow lived through it all, she says — but dozens of other family members perished in concentration camps.  

“They were taken to camps right away, in 1939,” Shink explains. “Poland was one of the first countries that was invaded by Hitler and people were taken.”

She says she learned much of her family history from her grandfather, Jack Grimbaum.

“I remember my grandfather telling me every time a train came and took people, we knew no-one ever came back, but we didn’t know where they were going, and they’d say pack a bag,” Shink recalls.

A story that was repeated again and again.

According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 6 million Jewish men, women, and children were “systematically persecuted and murdered by the Nazi regime and its collaborators.”

“On this day in 1945, the Soviet military liberated the three camps comprising Auschwitz where approximately 1.3 million people were murdered,” says Mitchel Chargo, the president of The Institute of Holocaust Research and Education(IHRE). “90% of the victims were European Jews.”

The Wayzata non-profit’s mission is to raise awareness about the Holocaust.

Chargo says the group just launched a website last week.

The hope is to reach Gen-z and Millennials — and to push back against Holocaust deniers.

“Our battleground is going to be on social media because that’s where we are meeting these younger generations,” Chargo says. “Holocaust distortion is becoming the larger problem, which is the misinformation or minimizing the impact of the holocaust or downplaying the number of victims of the Holocaust or if you can believe it, claiming that the Jews brought the Holocaust upon themselves.”

Shink says she’s spent years of research, even visiting a Holocaust museum in Israel, trying to learn what happened to family members who simply disappeared.

“Those years happened — they matter,” she declares. “I mean, my entire family was almost wiped out because they were Jewish.”

Shink says she did learn how her grandfather, who she says sewed suits for Nazi officers in exchange for an additional potato ration, escaped from one camp in April 1945.

She notes he wore one of those suits and walked out of the camp, before hiding in a nearby forest for two days.

“He stayed there, thinking he was going to die in the forest, because there was nowhere to go,” Shink remembers. “Then he said he saw a helicopter come over, so weak he couldn’t raise his hand. But it landed, and it was a Russian officer who told him that (the camp) was liberated.”  

The Wayzata resident, an IHRE board member, says her words are living testimony to the Holocaust.

She is determined, she says, that future generations know what she knows.

 “I am one of the last generations that will have met survivors and sat with them and been in the pool and seeing the tattoo of the numbers while they’re talking, and realizing what that meant,” Shink says. “We have to remember to act, we have to remember to stop prejudice, to speak up even when it’s hard. That’s what I feel I can do to honor my grandparents.”

Lessons learned for future generations.

“This event, which was one of the most devastating and traumatic events in known history, is a chance for all of us to examine how the bonds of human decency can break and shatter in such a short period of time,” Chargo says.

You can find out more about The Institute for Holocaust Research and Education here.

Husband goes to trial on murder charges in wife’s 2010 death

A Ramsey County jury listened Friday afternoon to opening statements in a murder case more than a decade old.

Nicholas Firkus, faces first-degree premeditated murder, and murder in the second-degree with intent charges in the death of his wife Heidi’s death at their St. Paul house in the 1700 block of Minnehaha Avenue, West.

RELATED: Murder charge filed against man in wife’s 2010 death in St. Paul

Heidi Firkus, 25, was shot and killed in her home April 25, 2010, during what Nicholas Firkus, her husband, told investigators was a home invasion.

A criminal complaint states Firkus told police at the scene that one or two people broke into his home, and that he and Heidi were trying to run out the back door to escape when a man grabbed the shotgun out of his hands and shot him and his wife.

The complaint states that, at the police station, Firkus stated he was walking behind Heidi while carrying his shotgun when a man grabbed the barrel of his shotgun, causing Firkus’ finger to hit the trigger and shoot Heidi. He added that the suspect then grabbed the gun and shot him in the leg before running away.

Investigators learned the Firkuses had financial troubles and their home was being foreclosed on and they were expected to move out the next day. However, investigators said evidence indicated Heidi didn’t know about the foreclosure. The complaint states investigators found a message to a friend that Heidi had sent just a month earlier saying, “Wish we weren’t tied down to our house so we could move somewhere fun.” No documents were signed by Heidi, either, the complaint mentions.

Ramsey County prosecutors filed criminal charges back in May 2021 against Nicholas Firkus after working with federal investigators to review evidence from the scene.

During opening statements on Friday afternoon, prosecutors addressed the delay saying in part that police were “ill-equipped” to process some of the evidence from when the crime occurred.

“He staged a burglary and killed her in the back,” said Assistant Ramsey County Attorney Elizabeth Lamin.

Lamin told the jury there were no signs of anyone else in the home, adding DNA evidence tested on the gun only matches the defendant, and no other finger prints were found on the shotgun.

“Shame and fear…dictated Nicholas Firkus actions,” Lamin said regarding the couple’s financial problems.

Defense attorney Robert Richman told the jury that Heidi knew about their financial hardship but didn’t tell family and friends about it.

 “Nick Firkus, loved his wife Heidi, and she loved him,” Richman said.

The defense said that their client was no way better off with the death of his wife, he’d still have to leave the home, but without his partner.

“He did everything he could to save her, her death was the tragedy of his life,” Richman said.

Testimony continues on Monday at the Ramsey County Courthouse in downtown St. Paul.

Family of 15-year-old killed in Burnsville crash seeks answers

The family of a Burnsville teenager killed in a crash Wednesday wants answers as to what happened.

Police said 15-year-old Brilly Cabrera was riding in a car that hit a tree in the median of East Burnsville Parkway near Portland Avenue around 12:30 a.m. Wednesday.

Cabrera was pronounced dead at the scene.

The driver, a 15-year-old boy, was taken to the hospital but is expected to be OK.

“They have so many questions and they’re hoping the investigation can finally just answer those and put it to rest,” said the victim’s sister Andrea Cabrera, translating for her father Mauricio, who is originally from Ecuador and speaks Spanish. “He doesn’t know why life is so unfair that they took his angel.”

Mauricio Cabrera told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS he dropped Brilly off at a sleepover Tuesday night and does not know why she left.

He identified the driver of the car as a friend of their daughter.

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS saw investigators at the scene Thursday, who appeared to be reconstructing the crash.

We asked a spokesperson for the police department if speed, weather or substance use may have played a role in the crash but so far have yet to receive a response.

Friends and family of the victim left flowers at the crash site.

Through tears, Brilly’s family described her as beautiful, smart and full of joy.

“It’s hard for her to accept that she’s not here anymore. She feels like at any moment she’ll walk through that door, like she’s at school and she’ll be back soon,” said Andrea Cabrera, translating for her mother Lilia Carchi, who is also originally from Ecuador.

The Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School District told 5 EYEWITNESS News it mobilized its crisis response team Wednesday to help students and staff cope with the tragic crash.

Cabrera’s parents are now planning her funeral, which they expect to be open to the public.

“I just hope she knows it’s going to be hard without her. So many things I wanted to show her. Such a beautiful angel,” Andrea Cabrera said. “15 years was not enough time. She’s going to be forever 15.”

There is a GoFundMe page set up to help the family with funeral expenses. Click here to donate.

St. Paul Schools to start ‘collaborative school’ partnership

Minnesota’s largest private university is partnering with the state’s second-largest school district for a new approach to teacher preparation.

The University of Saint Thomas and Saint Paul Public Schools is turning Maxfield Elementary School into a “collaborative learning school.”

“This is the dream. This is the gold standard,” said Dr. Amy Smith, interim dean of the School of Education at St. Thomas.

Starting in the fall of 2023, St. Thomas will have its own classroom at Maxfield Elementary for instructing its School of Education students.

Those student-teacher candidates will also assist in elementary school classrooms.

“This is a much deeper experience. It’s really an embedded presence. It closes that gap so our students are prepared for what’s really out there,” Smith said.

University of St. Thomas professors and faculty members will also be on site and have opportunities to conduct research at the school.

“That is unique. We’ve never had professors in the building before,” said Dr. Leslie Hitchens, principal at Maxfield Elementary. “Just putting it all together: teachers learning from students, students learning from teachers and then the university professors coming in and helping with different types of research practices that will benefit our students and our community.”

Hitchens said Maxfield Elementary has been in the Rondo neighborhood for more than 130 years and serves a diverse population of families, with 52% black students, 15% Hispanic, 12% identifying as two or more races, 11% Asian and 10% white.

They expect some of the research performed by the university will look at ways to increase educational outcomes for students of color in terms of testing and graduation rates, while incorporating new teaching methods catered to their unique cultures and backgrounds.

“And then what’s really exciting is what can we do in the school district, in the nation or globally as we get to do research projects that yield results about what’s working, what’s working well and how we can share those results with other communities,” Smith said.

Another goal of the new partnership is to help train and hire more teachers in the coming years.

Within the last week, a new state report revealed nearly every district in the state is dealing with a teacher shortage.

“It’s this wonderful, wonderful opportunity for us to better prepare teachers and that’s the goal,” Smith said. “We’re thinking about how we best prepare teacher educators and I know this is it.”

Weekly workshops provide support to Ukrainian refugees as U.S. adds to resettlement programs

Each Friday in a classroom at the Ukrainian American Community Center (UACC) in Minneapolis, refugees learn about employment, health care, community resources and other critical services.

“It is very important for us to get the basic understanding how to survive here, how to find education, how to find place to live, how to find food resources,” said Iryna Petrus, who arrived in Minnesota from Ukraine in May. “It’s all new to us.”

The weekly Community Orientation Workshops are a collaboration between the UACC, the International Institute of Minnesota, the Minnesota Council of Churches and the Minnesota Resettlement Programs Office.

This week’s focus was employment. Families and individuals who recently arrived the United States learned about networking, the job interview process and the cultural differences they may face when entering the U.S. workforce.

“When people are first arriving, they are usually waiting on their employment authorization, that’s usually the first barrier,” said Kaija Bergen, a Community Orientation Workshop instructor.

Petrus told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS she waited eight months to receive her work permit.

“It was tough to survive, mainly emotionally because when you are well established professional in Ukraine so inside you’re fighting, ‘I want to work, I want to be productive, I want to do something,’” she said. “As soon as I got my work permit, I was looking for job opportunities.”

Petrus was hired as the community outreach manager at UACC.

“Every human being wants to be valued, wants to feel productive and get up in the morning and say ‘I want to do something for myself, and my family and for someone else’,” she said.

Petrus called the weekly workshops “fundamentally important” in helping others get on their feet when they arrive to the Twin Cities.

Bergen instructed Friday’s class with the assistance of a translator.

“A lot of people, I think, are worried about their family members overseas and then just figuring out how to become an independent person here in the United States,” Bergen said. “There are a lot of things to get in order when you first arrive.”

While resettlement agencies have primarily held the role of welcoming refugees, the federal government has now launched a new program to expand the contributions of private citizens.

The Welcome Corps program allows a group of at least five American citizens or permanent residents sponsor the resettlement of refugees. The U.S. Department of State hopes to mobilize 10,000 Americans to help 5,000 refugees during the first year.

It will be rolled out in two phases, according to the State Department. First, private sponsors will be matched with refugees whose cases are already approved for resettlement under the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP). Those matches will be facilitated during the first six months of 2023, according to the State Department.

In mid-2023, the second phase of the program will allow private sponsors to identify refugees to refer to the USRAP for resettlement and then support them.

Executive Director of International Institute of Minnesota Jane Graupman explained the private sponsors will, “have to raise money to support the program, have to do all of the work or some of the work refugee resettlement agencies do in the beginning phase of resettlement.”

According to the Welcome Corps website, sponsors will need to raise a minimum of $2,275 in cash and in-kind contributions per refugee they welcome.

Graupman said International Institute is prepared to be a resource for those who participate in the new program.

“It’s really a great compliment to the work that we’re doing,” she said.

Petrus is welcoming the change as well.

“I am very thankful people do open their hearts, their home. […] People are getting so united and I’m very thankful for that. It’s a new era,” she said.

UACC is open every Friday from 12:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. for walk-in services to refugees.

Biden administration’s 20-year mining ban near Boundary Waters draws mixed reactions

The Biden administration’s decision to protect the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness from mining is drawing mixed reactions across Minnesota.

The order closes over 350 square miles of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Northern Minnesota to mining for two decades.

Supporters are calling this a massive win for the environment, while one critic believes it’s damaging for Minnesota’s mining industry. But the Biden administration ultimately decided the Boundary Waters are worthy of these special protections.

“Everyone should feel really pleased that we can now protect this area from potential mining for the next 20 years,” said Tom Tidwell, former chief of the U.S Forest Service.

Supporters of the decision are calling it a locally led initiative.

“We’re grateful for the thousands of Minnesotans who made their voices heard and said no way to toxic mining,” said Allison Flint, senior legal director of the Wilderness Society.

This proposal was first approved in 2016 under President Barack Obama, was reversed by President Donald Trump and is now back in place under President Joe Biden.

“I never thought that any administration would ban mining on the Iron Range, but it has now happened,” said Congressman Pete Stauber, from Minnesota’s 8th District.

Stauber, a Republican, is calling the move “an attack on our way of life”.

“We just had the Department of Defense say we cannot rely on foreign nations for minerals anymore and they go ahead and put this ban in,” Stauber said.

This decision would impact Twin Metals Minnesota, which is proposing to build an underground copper-nickel mine in the area near Ely.

“Twin Metals Minnesota is deeply disappointed and stunned that the federal government has chosen to enact a 20-year moratorium on mining across a quarter million acres of land in northeast Minnesota,” the company said in a statement. “This region sits on top of one of the world’s largest deposits of critical minerals that are vital in meeting our nation’s goals to transition to a clean energy future, to create American jobs, to strengthen our national security and to bolster domestic supply chains. We believe our project plays a critical role in addressing all of these priorities, and we remain committed to enforcing Twin Metals’ rights.”

Others disagree and say it’s just a matter of time before a major spill.

“It’s important that as a nation, we look at where we need mines, but at the same time we choose those less risky places,” Tidwell said.

The Department of the Interior has the authority to enforce this for a maximum time period of 20 years; only Congress can legislate a permanent withdrawal.

78 years on, Jewish Holocaust rescuers want their story told

KIBBUTZ HAZOREA, Israel (AP) — Just before Nazi Germany invaded Hungary in March 1944, Jewish youth leaders in the eastern European country jumped into action: They formed an underground network that in the coming months would save tens of thousands of fellow Jews from the gas chambers.This chapter of the Holocaust heroism is scarcely remembered in Israel. Nor is it part of the official curriculum in schools. But the few remaining members of Hungary’s Jewish underground want their story told. Dismayed at the prospect of being forgotten, they are determined to keep memories of their mission alive.“The story of the struggle to save tens of thousands needs to be a part of the chronicles of the people of Israel,” said David Gur, 97, one of a handful of members still alive. “It is a lighthouse during the period of the Holocaust, a lesson and exemplar for the generations.”As the world marks International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Friday, historians, activists, survivors and their families are all preparing for the time when there will no longer be living witnesses to share first-person accounts of the horrors of the Nazi genocide during World War II. In the Holocaust, 6 million Jews were wiped out by the Nazis and their allies.Israel, which was established as a refuge for Jews in the wake of the Holocaust, has gone to great lengths over the years to recognize thousands of “Righteous Among the Nations” — non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.Accounts of Jewish resistance to the Nazis, such as the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, are mainstays in the national narrative but rescue missions by fellow Jews — such as the Hungarian resistance — are less known.Hungary was home to around 900,000 Jews before the Nazi invasion. Its government was allied with Nazi Germany, but as the Soviet Red Army advanced toward Hungary, the Nazis invaded in March 1944, to prevent its Axis ally from making a separate peace deal with the Allies.Over the 10 months that followed, as many as 568,000 Jews were killed by the Nazis and their allies in Hungary, according to figures from Yad Vashem, Israel’s official Holocaust memorial.Gur said he and his colleagues knew that disaster was looming when three Jewish women arrived at Budapest’s main synagogue in the fall of 1943. They had fled Nazi-occupied Poland and bore disturbing news about people being shipped off to concentration camps.“They had fairly clear information about what was happening, and saw the many trains, and it was obvious to them what was happening,” said Gur.Gur oversaw a massive forgery operation that provided false documents for Jews and non-Jewish members of the Hungarian resistance. “I was an 18-year-old adolescent when the heavy responsibility fell upon me,” he said.There was great personal risk. In December 1944, he was arrested at the forgery workshop and brutally interrogated and imprisoned, according to his memoir, “Brothers for Resistance and Rescue.” The Jewish underground broke him out of the central military prison in a rescue operation later that month.The forged papers were used by Jewish youth movements to operate a smuggling network and run Red Cross houses that saved thousands from the Nazis and their allies.According to Gur’s book, at least 7,000 Jews were smuggled out of Hungary, through Romania to ships on the Black Sea that would bring them to British-controlled Palestine. At least 10,000 forged passes offering protection, known as Shutzpasses, were distributed to Budapest’s Jews, and around 6,000 Jewish children and accompanying adults were saved in houses ostensibly under the protection of the International Red Cross.Robert Rozett, a senior historian at Yad Vashem, said that although it was “the largest rescue operation” of European Jews during the Holocaust, this episode remains off “the main route of the narrative.”“It’s very significant because these activities helped tens of thousands of Jews stay alive in Budapest,” he said.In 1984, Gur founded “The Society for Research of the History of the Zionist Youth Movements in Hungary,” a group that has promoted awareness about this effort.Last month at a kibbutz in northern Israel, Sara Epstein, 97, Dezi Heffner-Reiner, 95, and Betzalel Grosz, 98, three of the remaining survivors who helped save Jews in Nazi-occupied Hungary, received the Jewish Rescuers Citation for their role in the Holocaust. The award is given by two Jewish groups — B’nai B’rith World Center-Jerusalem and the Committee to Recognize the Heroism of Jewish Rescuers During the Holocaust.“There aren’t many of us left, but this is important,” said Heffner-Reiner.More than 200 other members of the underground were given the award posthumously. Gur received the award in 2011, the year it was created.Yuval Alpan, a son of one of the rescuers and an activist with the society, said the citations were meant to recognize those who saved lives during the Holocaust.“This resistance underground youth movement saved tens of thousands of Jews during 1944, and their story is not known,” he said. “It’s the biggest rescue operation in the Holocaust and nobody knows about it.”International Holocaust day falls on the anniversary of the Red Army’s liberation of the Auschwitz death camp 78 years ago. Israel is home to some 150,600 Holocaust survivors, almost all of them over the age of 80, according to government figures. That is 15,193 less than a year ago.The United Nations will be holding a memorial ceremony at the General Assembly on Friday, and other memorial events are scheduled around the globe.Israel marks its own Holocaust Remembrance Day in the spring.___Associated Press writers Eleanor Reich and Ilan Ben Zion in Jerusalem contributed to this report.Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

Minnesota Senate debate on reproductive rights bill continues late into the night

UPDATE: The Minnesota Senate approved the bill early Saturday morning.

A marathon debate in the Senate over the future of reproductive rights in the state carried into the late nighttime hours Friday.

The Protect Reproductive Options Act was introduced on the Senate floor at 10:30 a.m., after already having passed the Minnesota House last week by a vote of 69-65. As previously reported, all but one Democrat, Rep. Gene Pelowski Jr. of Winona, voted in favor, while all Republicans voted against it.

As of 10:45 p.m., senators were still introducing amendments to the bill, and it had yet to be taken up for a final vote.

The legislation would allow Minnesotans, as well as those who come to the state, to make their own decisions about having abortions.

The bill, which has been hotly debated, also is written to protect sterilization, family planning, pre-conception and maternity care.

There is no language in the bill that puts any restrictions on the stage of pregnancy when abortion can be performed or any other restrictions.

“This is a very extreme bill,” said Rep. Jim Nash, R-Waconia. “The most extreme abortion bill in the entire U.S. It has zero guardrails. Zero guardrails.”

Previously, Democrats in the House did not include Republican amendments that would have required abortion facilities to be licensed, banned partial birth abortions, allowed local governments to regulate abortions and restricted abortions in the third trimester. That amendment, prohibiting abortions in the third trimester except in cases of rape, incest or to protect health of the mother, failed on a tie vote of 67-67, meaning some Democrats did vote with Republicans.

RELATED: Abortion bills on fast-track in MN Senate, House

“It still allows exceptions for rape, incest, the health of the mother,” said Rep. Anne Neu Brindley, R-North Branch. “This is the most reasonable guard rail we could possibly place on House File 1 and I hope you will vote yes.”

Planned Parenthood of the North Central States explains since the overturning of Roe v Wade, there’s been a 13% increase in out-of-state patients.

“My patient who drove nine hours to see me because her doctors would not take care of her, even though she was given a lethal fetal diagnosis,” said Dr. Sarah Traxler, the Chief Medical Officer for Planned Parenthood.

The Minnesota Senate has been holding hearings on the issue as well.

If the bill passes the senate, it could be on Gov. Tim Walz’s desk in just a few days.

Clean energy bill clears Minnesota House, heads to Senate

Lawmakers in the Minnesota House of Representatives have passed a bill that would set new goals for the state and put Minnesota on a path to producing 100% carbon-free electricity by 2040.

The bill, which would also ban importing energy from other areas that are made from carbon sources, was approved by a vote of 70-60 on Thursday and now heads to the Senate.

The debate over the bill lasted more than seven hours into late Thursday night, with several representatives sharing concerns over whether or not the state would be able to create enough energy under the new law. Republicans have, for that reason, dubbed it the “Blackout Bill.”

“We’re not going to be able to produce enough energy. That’s the cause of blackouts. And if in the state of Minnesota, we can’t produce enough energy or purchase enough energy, that’s going to cause blackouts here too,” said Rep. Anne Neu Brindley (R-North Branch).

Those in support of the bill say it makes Minnesota a leader in clean energy.

“Going to 100% clean energy will mean cheaper power, more jobs, better health and helping to do our part to confront climate change,” said Rep. Jamie Long (DFL-Minneapolis).

A similar bill passed in the House in 2021 but failed in the Senate.

Now, with DFL members having a majority in both chambers, supporters say the bill has a better chance of becoming law.

Gov. Tim Walz has also included the policy in his two-year budget proposal, which was fully unveiled this week.

Show Us How You Winter: Giant snowman in Buffalo

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS asked viewers to “show us how they winter” in Minnesota, and we have gotten lots of submissions.

Meteorologist Chris Reece documented the very best local traditions, with the latest feature being a giant snowman in Buffalo. Click the video player above to view the full story.

If you love winters here in Minnesota, we want to know about it! Do you have an amazing ice slide in your backyard? Is your fish house the envy of all your friends? We want you to show us how you winter!

Snap a picture and submit it here. Our new meteorologist Chris Reece will feature your winter traditions during Twin Cities Live, Minnesota Live and in our newscasts.

A horse tranquilizer is making Minnesota’s fentanyl crisis even more dangerous 

There are signs that a new chapter of the overdose epidemic is unfolding in the Twin Cities.

And it may be the most dangerous chapter yet.

Data obtained by 5 INVESTIGATES shows that a drug called xylazine is creeping into the local supply at a rate that is alarming law enforcement, doctors, and the Minnesota Department of Health.

Xylazine is a tranquilizer used on horses, but it’s now being mixed with fentanyl to make the high last longer. It can lead to lifelong skin wounds, intense withdrawals and make it more difficult to rescue people from overdoses. 

“It’s out of this world. It’s never been seen before,” said Alyssa Cunningham, who runs the women’s side of Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge in South Minneapolis.

In the last few months, Cunningham says at least three of her clients experienced the worst detox they have ever seen, and they suspect it’s from xylazine.

“They can’t control what’s coming out of them. They can’t control words, they can’t control movement, they’re paralyzed,” she said. “They’re throwing up, diarrhea, the whole entire room – we’re calling hazmat teams to clean up, similar to a homicide case.”

Unlike fentanyl, xylazine is not an opioid. That means the life-saving drugs, such as Narcan, may not be as effective in reversing overdoses.

“When they’re on the streets and they’re overdosing, Narcan is not saving them,” Cunningham said.

That is especially alarming to those who have relied on Narcan as they battle their addiction.

 “They think, ‘oh, well Narcan will bring me back, it’ll be just fine,’ but that concern has gone up so much.” said Cassie Lane, who has been in recovery for more than a year at Adult and Teen Challenge. 

“It’s very scary,” said Olivia Templeman, who went into recovery for fentanyl and heroin addiction just as xylazine started emerging in the Twin Cities.

“I’m terrified for my kids in the future… and my friends who still are using,” she said.

Experts say Narcan should still be administered during overdoses because it’s impossible to know whether xylazine is causing the reaction.

33 Cases

Mary DeLaquil, an epidemiologist at MDH, says the number of deadly overdoses that included xylazine has doubled every year since she started tracking it in 2019.

“It’s increasing significantly,” she said.

Xylazine showed up on at least 33 death certificates in Minnesota last year, according to MDH data.

DeLaquil says more medical examiners and coroners are now looking for xylazine in toxicology reports. 

“They know that xylazine is an issue for reversing overdoses, and so they’re doing what they can to track how much xylazine we’re seeing among overdose deaths,” DeLaquil said.

“Widely underestimated”

But the state’s data is only telling part of the story due to a dire lack of testing. Routine drug screenings at hospitals and other medical facilities do not test for xylazine.

That’s why the Drug Enforcement Administration is also warning that “it is very likely the prevalence of xylazine is widely underestimated,” according to a joint intelligence report out late last year about the dangers of the drug.

Related: Federal prosecutors detail fentanyl operation that killed U professor

Xylazine started showing up on the east coast more than a decade ago where there are now gruesome reminders of the dangers in what has become one of the hallmark and mysterious traits of the drug.

Medical experts say xylazine use is causing large, gaping skin wounds in different parts of the body – regardless of how the drug is used.

“There’s been several people, especially out in Philly and in New York, where this has been a bigger issue,” said Brit Culp, an addiction treatment specialist with Hennepin Healthcare in Minneapolis. 

In some cases, the wounds have become so bad they have led to amputation.

“We have ample opportunity to learn from Puerto Rico and Philly and other spots on the East Coast,” Culp said. 

Culp and other medical experts believe the key is to start routine testing and raise awareness of the drug and the harm it is causing.

“It’s really, really hard to see,” said Alyssa Cunningham with Adult and Teen Challenge. “You tear up, you immediately just want to help…how do I get them to a point where they can live again?”

US inflation and consumer spending cooled in December

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Federal Reserve’s preferred inflation gauge eased further in December, and consumer spending fell — the latest evidence that the Fed’s series of interest rate hikes are slowing the economy.

Friday’s report from the Commerce Department showed that prices rose 5% last month from a year earlier, down from a 5.5% year-over-year increase in November. It was the third straight drop.

Consumer spending fell 0.2% from November to December and was revised lower to show a drop of 0.1% from October to November. Last year’s holiday sales were sluggish for many retailers, and the overall spending figures for the final two months of 2022 were the weakest in two years.

The pullback in consumer spending will likely be welcomed by Fed officials, who are seeking to cool the economy by making lending increasingly expensive. A slower pace of spending could boost their confidence that inflation is steadily easing. Still, the decline in year-over-year inflation matches the Fed’s outlook and isn’t likely to alter expectations that it will raise its key rate by a quarter-point next week.

On a monthly basis, inflation ticked up just 0.1% from November to December for a second straight month. Energy prices plunged 5.1%, and the overall cost of goods also fell.

“Core” prices, which exclude volatile food and energy costs, rose 0.3% from November to December and 4.4% from a year earlier. The year-over-year figure was down from 4.7% in November, though still well above the Fed’s 2% target.

Falling prices for oil, gas, copper, lumber, wheat and other commodities, along with the unclogging of supply chains, have helped slow the retail costs of cars, furniture and clothes, among other items.

Price increases, though, have remained persistently high for some goods and services, including eggs, which skyrocketed 60% last month compared with a year ago. Egg prices rose 11.1% just in December, inflated by an outbreak of avian flu that has led to a culling of herds and higher feed costs.

Car rental prices have also soared nearly 27% from a year ago and rose 1.6% just in December.

But for many other items, inflation is easing. Coffee prices, though up nearly 14% in the past year, rose just 0.2% last month. And the cost of clothes and shoes rose just 3% in the past year and 0.3% last month.

Friday’s figures are separate from the better-known inflation data that comes from the consumer price index. The CPI, which was released earlier this month, has also shown a steady deceleration.

“The latest data offer the first tangible signs that the economy’s main engine is slowing,” said Oren Klachkin, lead U.S. economist at Oxford Economics, referring to consumers, whose spending accounts for about 70% of economic activity.

The Fed has been seeking to slow spending, growth and the surging prices that have bedeviled the nation for nearly two years. Its key rate, which affects many consumer and business loans, is now in a range of 4.25% to 4.5%, up from near zero last March. Though inflation has been decelerating, most economists say they think the Fed’s harsh medicine will tip the economy into a recession sometime this year.

“We continue to see the U.S. economy experiencing a mild recession this year,” said Lydia Boussour, senior economist at EY Parthenon.

A recession typically causes widespread layoffs and higher unemployment. But for now, U.S. employers are adding workers, and the unemployment rate remains at a half-century low of 3.5%.

Should job losses — which are occurring at many finance and tech companies — drive up unemployment, a recession could eventually be declared by a group of economists at the National Bureau of Economic Research, a nonprofit that officially determines when recessions occur. The economists at the NBER typically make such an announcement well after a recession has actually begun.

For now, the number of people seeking unemployment benefits — a proxy for layoffs — declined last week to 186,000, a very low level historically. And Walmart, the nation’s largest employer, said it would raise its minimum wage, from $12 to $14 an hour, to help it keep and attract workers.

The Fed is in an increasingly delicate position. Chair Jerome Powell has emphasized that the central bank plans to keep boosting its key rate and to keep it elevated, potentially until the end of the year. Yet that policy may become untenable if a sharp recession takes hold.

On Thursday, the government reported that the economy grew at a healthy clip in the final three months of last year but with much of the expansion driven by one-time factors: Companies restocked their depleted inventories as supply chain snarls unraveled, and the nation’s trade deficit shrank.

By contrast, consumer spending in the October-December quarter as a whole weakened from the previous quarter, and business investment dropped off sharply. Overall, the economy expanded at a 2.9% annual rate in the October-December quarter, down slightly from a 3.2% pace in the previous quarter.

If consumers remain less willing to boost their spending, companies’ profit margins will shrink, and many may cut expenses. That trend could lead eventually to waves of layoffs. Economists at Bank of America have forecast that the economy will grow slightly in the first three months of this year — but then shrink in the following three quarters.

More frugal consumers would threaten to send the economy into a recession. But they can also help reduce inflation. Companies can’t keep raising prices if Americans won’t pay the higher costs.

Last week, the Federal Reserve’s beige book, a gathering of anecdotal reports from businesses around the country, said: “Many retailers noted increased difficulty in passing through cost increases, suggesting greater price sensitivity on the part of consumers.”

Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.