Imagine being homeless during the holidays and, after finally finding shelter for your family, waking to the sounds of Christmas morning fire alarms that put you and your loved ones back on the streets.
That frightening scenario became a reality Wednesday when a fire displaced more than 200 residents from temporary apartments at the Francis Drake Hotel in downtown Minneapolis. The aging building near S. 5th Avenue and 10th Street houses the homeless when Hennepin County's other shelters are full.
Losing a home is devastating whether it happens in Eden Prairie, Duluth or Minneapolis, but the Francis Drake fire put a spotlight on the plight of people who lack the resources to quickly find affordable housing.
"The more you put poverty into dislocation, the deeper the problems become," said former Mayor R.T. Rybak, who is CEO of the Minneapolis Foundation.
It was heartening to see the community rally to help Drake residents in the hours after the fire. The Red Cross and Salvation Army quickly responded and — as news spread on news websites, TV and social media — hundreds of people arrived with clothes, food and other items. As the donations piled up, officials put out the word that no more were needed.
"The outpouring is wonderful," Hennepin County Commissioner Mike Opat told an editorial writer by text. "But the need is daily. Help the shelters. Give money more regularly. The bigger issues surrounding affordable housing are complicated and debatable. But shelter is simple. People in need go there in real time."
Simple, yes, but only with the kind of consistent help Opat is urging.