On Christmas Day residents of the Francis Drake Hotel, an overflow shelter for homeless families and individuals in Minneapolis, were evacuated around 3 a.m. due to a fire. The building was destroyed, leaving hundreds of people without a home. Again.

Many Minnesotans will remember the images of a line of buses providing a warm place for people to sit and wait and the mounds of diapers and items brought by residents for people who had lost almost everything in the fire.

Though Red Wing is an hour away from where the catastrophe happened, the community jumped in to help.

The American Red Cross alerted the Red Wing Homeless Committee that short-term shelters were needed. Committee member Beth Breeden jumped into action.

Breeden contacted local businesses, churches and residents that she knew. The Red Cross transported 42 people to the community where local hotels and individuals provided places to stay and meals.

Restaurants and catering services provided the 42 individuals with dinner and breakfast.

“The way that people in the community came out and helped out on Christmas day was just remarkable,” Doug Blakesley, a member of the committee, recounted.

On Dec. 26, the 42 visitors were brought back to Twin Cities. However, the Homeless Committee explained that some visitors would have been more than happy staying in Red Wing.

In a short write-up about the event by members of the committee, the story of Andrea was shared:

“Andrea, a mother of three, was so impressed by the hospitality and good will shown to her and her family that she told Breeden that when she got ‘back on her feet’ she would consider moving here and becoming a working member of our community.”

Still a need

The Drake Hotel fire and the outpouring of support from around the region was a highly visibly, well known event. The Homeless Committee worked to help the 42 individuals, but when the former residents of the Drake Hotel returned to Minneapolis on Dec. 26, the work did not end in Red Wing.

“We work with individuals, we work with veterans, we work with adults, we work with youth, we work with everybody. And those that aren’t taken in at the shelter we still put-up,” Breeden explained.

Currently, the main focus of the committee is helping homeless individuals find a place to stay, whether that is at the Parkway Motel, a shelter in a surrounding community, or someone’s home.

James Magnuson, a member of the group, explained:

“As a practical matter I think our biggest role is probably fundraising and pulling the money together from various sources to help the homeless. But we’ve been trying to expand on that in the sense that we want to do more public outreach and build some alliances, build some friends to help the homeless in any way they can.”

In 2018, the committee helped find temporary places to stay for numerous people:

  • Unduplicated households: 91

  • Unduplicated adults: 128

  • Unduplicated youths: 82

  • Unduplicated total: 210

Because of the focus on finding housing for homeless individuals and families, the majority of the money raised by the committee is paid to the Parkway Motel. Committee members hope that someday they can use the money for a permanent shelter.

“We really do have a long range goal of a separate, functioning, physical structure for the homeless. I mean the Parkway has fulfilled a need, but you talk about all that money being spent over the years, it really can’t be a permanent shelter,” Magnuson said.

While the goal is to create a shelter, it is hard to find a location and facility that would meet the needs of homeless individuals while still being affordable. Magnuson went on to explain:

“I guess an ideal situation, ideal scenario, would be that some wonderfully generous person would give us a place, fully equipped, and say, ‘Here’s a check for a half million dollars to run it for the next couple of years.’”

The committee has had leads on possible shelter sites in the past, but it is challenging to find a space in an accessible part of town that is zoned to allow a shelter.

Breeden theorized that some residents don’t believe that there are homeless people in the community or they don’t want to believe.

“Everyone looks at Red Wing as the tourism town, and they don’t want the word ‘homelessness’ used or even shown, or seen, or posted,” Breeden stated.

For questions or concerns, contact Jack Nordgaard at 651-388-7731 or Jerry O’Rourke at 651-388-3348.