The Free Press, Mankato, MN

December 22, 2013

No Direction Home, Day 3: Points of light exist in homelessness issue

By Robb Murray

---- — MANKATO — When it comes to the issue of homelessness in Mankato, not all is grim.

There are points of light throughout the community that show that — even though the situation is horrible for far too many people — this isn't a community that doesn't care.

Karen Wilson from St. John the Baptist Catholic Church said every Thursday the church has what is known as Simon Ministry.

"They come in, we have food," Wilson said. "Last week we had bars, cookies, bagels, hot chocolate, coffee, juice. We have games, we play cribbage. If they have kids, we play a lot of games. They like to visit."

Simon Ministry also gives Hy-Vee gift cards — as well as shampoo, toilet paper, toothpaste, detergent — to people who need help.

"They tell you stories that are unbelievable," Wilson said. "One was raped while he was in jail. Another told he was involved in a party bust, told to drop his pants, couldn't afford underwear — he was deeply embarrassed. He was crying while he was telling me."

Last winter Centenary United Methodist Church started a morning coffee time for anyone who wants to come in. Many of them are homeless.

“I have met more people down on their luck, and they’re just nice people,” church member Joe Farnham told The Free Press last year. “And they can quote more Scripture to me than anybody in our church.”

Go to the Salvation Army any day at noon and their volunteers will be serving free meals to anyone who is hungry, including many of the men who sleep in the charity's homeless shelter.

Partners for Affordable Housing usually has a waiting list but is always willing to help people find shelter. Social workers for Blue Earth and Nicollet counties can sign eligible people up to receive benefits. At the ECHO Food Shelf, anyone who is hungry can get food. Eligible people can pick up food 12 times per year, and there helping is a representative from Second Harvest, Minnesota's largest food bank, who can help people figure out which public benefits they're eligible for.

CADA House is available to victims of domestic violence. The Reach is there for homeless youth. The Backpack Food Program is helping get food to kids who live in homes of modest means. And there are others, including many nonprofits whose mission may not be to help the poor but who make their services available to anyone who can't afford it, such as the YMCA.

Beyond the official organizations, the community at large has been generous. Each year multiple organizations sponsor toy drives that help thousands of individuals have a better Christmas. Thousands more drop coins and dollar bills into Salvation Army red kettles, kettles that are staffed by volunteers who want to help their neighbors by ringing a bell in a cold grocery store entryway. The United Way raises $2 million annually, much of which stays local and helps many of the organizations mentioned here.

So yes, there are points of light.

"I had cancer last year," Wilson said. "One of the homeless men lit a candle every week in a different church until I came back. That gave me a whole new perspective ... We have to help them."

If you need help or are interested in helping, here is a partial list of organizations that help the poor: • Partners for Affordable Housing, 387-2115, • Salvation Army, Mankato, 345-7840, • The Reach, homeless youth drop-in center, 381-6670 • Blue Earth County Social Services, 304-4222, • Nicollet County Social Services, 934-8559, • ECHO Food Shelf, 345-7508, • Second Harvest Heartland, 651-484-5117, • CADA House, 625-3966, • The Backpack Food Program, 381-4348,