Homelessness: A story about us

Today’s must-read story is MPR News reporter Tim Nelson’s report on what’s happening around the Dorothy Day Center, the homeless shelter in downtown St. Paul where homelessness is putting so much pressure on the place that a tent city pops up around it each night.


Tents were set up near the Dorothy Day Center in downtown St. Paul nightly during the summer months. Hart VanDenburg / MPR News

Third world, anyone?

How people end up homeless varies, of course. But there’s no question, despite what you might read in the comments sections, that bad luck by people already on the edge is a factor.

That includes Leticia Bell, 52, a mother of three who can sometimes be found at dawn sleeping on the grass nearby. Sometimes dozens sleep wrapped up in tarps or camped out in rows of tents along West 7th Street.

Her last job was as cook at a Grand Avenue restaurant. Before that she worked at a hotel, but she had knee surgery earlier this summer and couldn’t be on her feet. She said she and her mom can’t get along and she had to move out a few months ago. She doesn’t want to burden her kids.

“What do I have here? Well, I have my cardboard obviously,” she said. “You have to start with a piece of cardboard. Then you put your blanket down, then you put your sleeping bag over it. And all I have is my work uniform. You know, some socks and underwear, a couple pairs of pants, my hygiene products. I’ve got a flashlight and an umbrella. And some books. And that’s about it.”

She also keeps a piece of steel rebar handy. “I sleep with that at night when I’m out here. Just in case,” she said. “You never know what’s going to happen. Somebody got robbed yesterday.”

That’s a jaw-dropping description of reality but it’s nothing compared to this: Not many people are going to give a rip.

Homelessness as an issue has been increasing since the ’80s. Millions of stories have been produced and yet it’s the one issue that people walk away from without any sense of obligation.

If anything, we’ve become desensitized to the problem. Though it’s an increasing story on the streets, you’ll not a hear a word about it in any coverage of issues in the coming election. Not a single word.

Maybe this isn’t a story about “them.” Maybe it’s a story about us.

Related: Homeless people who found missing boy declare: ‘We’re not heroes’ (San Jose Mercury News).