Ramsey County sheriff, advocates give impassioned plea to help Minnesota's homeless

March 25, 2019 10:16 PM

Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher and a Minnesota teenager gave candid, impassioned testimony before a state Senate Human Services Committee Monday.

Right now, there is approximately $800,000 in the state budget for homeless emergency services programs for the entire state. Homeless advocates told lawmakers they would like to see $15 million in the budget.

Arin is a teenager who asked that only his first name be used while testifying before the committee. Arin told lawmakers he spent two years living in a handmade, plywood shack in the woods near Mora before receiving help provided through homeless emergency funding.

"I remember one night it was 25 degrees below zero, plus windchill in the middle of winter, and I could not sleep because I was shaking so hard from the cold," said Arin.

"I was able to help, eventually, here in the Twin Cities through Lutheran Social Services," said Arin. "I have a counselor, I got help with searching for a job, and now I work two jobs and will start college in the fall to hopefully become an attorney to help others who need an advocate but cannot afford it."

Study: Increase in Minnesota homelessness since 2015

Sheriff Fletcher told lawmakers we, as Minnesotans, could "do better" and shared his stories of this winter's cold and how it opened his eyes to the true face of the homeless.

"I am embarrassed to tell you that I thought I knew what homelessness was, but I didn't," said Fletcher. "I want you to know that I am embarrassed that I did not know the truth about homelessness until January of this year."

Sheriff Fletcher said when the extremely cold weather settled in and shelters were full, he learned a lot after interacting with homeless people at the Union Depot, in St. Paul, which Fletcher opened to help people living on the street.

"It really opened up my eyes to the problem and I learned a lot from talking to people, getting to know them, and I then realized that I truly did not understand homelessness," said Fletcher.

Fletcher then challenged lawmakers to join him on a patrol any night of the week, because he thinks the experience will help them also understand what the homeless issue really is for people.

"Talk to them face-to-face," said Fletcher. "Break down the stereotypes that you have heard and break down your world view of homelessness and you are going to find kind, wonderful, thankful humans who just want help getting to that next level in life."

The requested appropriation was moved into the Omnibus Human Services Bill where it will likely get a vote late in the session when conference committees start negotiating on final budget items.

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Jay Kolls

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