Role of Government is to Level the Playing Field

In June, Minneapolis Mayor R. T. Rybak was one of four people who spoke on mental health and homelessness at […]

In June, Minneapolis Mayor R. T. Rybak was one of four people who spoke on mental health and homelessness at Wesley United Methodist Church. As Mayor stated, “I worked with our faith communities and they’ve been great partners. But I’ve made it very clear that I think you cannot run a just society on bake sales and passing the plate.”

“Almost half of the homeless population,” said Mayor R. T. Rybak, “has a physical or mental disability. Most of my work has been about ‘closing the gap on income’ and ‘on accessibility.’ The Mayor’s office continues to work with Minneapolis residents to increase job opportunities for those who have cultural challenges, be they training or putting resources into training.”

“Shelter is only a temporary situation,” said the Mayor. “And having people long term in shelters is a failure in our ability to get people into jobs and permanent housing. We’re launching a ‘chronic long-term homelessness initiative,’ that will focus on those key issues.”

The Mayor talked about two current programs that are an important step in his vision and are already in place:

• Clare Apartments, an affordable housing program for people who live with AIDS. It is located at 929 Third Avenue NE., Minneapolis, MN.

• The Minneapolis Community Technical College (MCTC) nursing program for single mothers. Graduates will get a job through the MCTC program at Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC), North Memorial and Children’s hospital.

As part of his chronic long-term homelessness initiative Mayor Rybak proposed:

• $100,000 be included in his budget to hire a local coordinator to bring together multiple partners to implement a comprehensive plan to end chronic homelessness in Minneapolis.

The city will also ask Hennepin County to be an equal partner on this project as it moves forward to coordinate with our state and federal counterparts.

The Mayor stated that some people believe in the “idea that putting people in a shelter is an end.” It is not. It’s a band-aid. It covers up a failure of a society that is not providing jobs and housing to those most in need. He added, “The massive cuts from the state and federal governments, in social services, have placed an additional burden on those most in need. It’s wrong.”

According to the Mayor, “We need to try more opportunities for specific populations. And the needs of a homeless person with physical challenges are dramatically more difficult. The simple idea of having a person at a shelter leave in the morning and come back at night is difficult enough for most of the population.”

It is more dangerous for a homeless person with a disability who carries money around from a cashed paycheck; and the danger is from physical assault, robbery, and or serious injury. Are people who seek housing in a shelter safe from robbery?

I am not homeless, but a person who wanted to rob me has followed me to my home. A young person slapped me in the face as I walked down the mall while I used my white cane. My wife was mugged at a bus stop and the thief got away with her purse. Fortunately she was not injured. We dealt with problems of forged checks for a year after the incident, and it took us years to work through the emotional scars of that attack.

About a month ago, a friend of mine was robbed at knifepoint; and the robbers knocked his white cane from his hand. The thieves stole his wallet, which was filled with money, a credit card, his social security card and state identification card. If this can happen to people who are not homeless, it can happen to homeless people with a disability. What safety mechanisms are in place to educate and protect disabled people from such incidents?

How are homeless people safe from robbery, especially people with a disability who carry money around from cashed paychecks? In the area of public safety, according to Mayor Rybak, “we’ve trained about a third of our police department in working with residents with mental illness. We have some in our department who are specially trained to work with people who have mental illness,” said Mayor Rybak. “Eventually we will have the entire department trained to have that (expertise).”

Like many people with a disability, I use the public transportation system on a regular basis. In a previous article, the Governor of Minnesota stated that only poor people and the disabled ride buses. Mayor Rybak was appalled at the Governor’s 2004 proposed Metropolitan Transit cuts because such cuts hurt the people most in need. “I’m pretty disgusted by people who said during the bus strike that they saw no impact. Anyone who saw no impact during the bus strike wasn’t paying attention.”

The Mayor is in favor of a network of buses that go to all parts of this city. “I’ll fight tooth and nail to keep that system. The bus is part of it, the Light Rail is part of it, and Metro Mobility is obviously a part of it. The role of government is to do everything it can do to level the playing field.”

Like many city committees, the Disability Advisory Committee reports to the Mayor about their work in such areas as education, transportation, housing, employment and entertainment. One of the issues the Disability Committee has been recently involved with is the open air cafes on the Nicollet Mall. I like to use the outdoor cafes. However, I am sometimes challenged as I navigate around cafe staff, chairs and tables while workers set them up on the mall.

I’m pretty good with the use of a guide dog or white cane. Someone who is blind and homeless may not have the kind of skills I have, and that person will be more vulnerable to injury as he or she travels around the outdoor cafes. There is still a lot of work to do, and I am grateful to the Mayor and the Disability Committee for what they’ve done. To contact the Mayor’s Office, call 612-673-2100. The phone number for the Advisory Committee on People with Disabilities is 612-673-3757 and the email is peoplewithdisabilities@ci.minneapolis.mn.us.