Once upon a time on Lake Street, there was a sanctuary.
While the city burned and police rounded up people without homes for violating curfew, a group of volunteers stepped in to protect and serve.
They cut a deal with the owner of the former Sheraton Minneapolis Midtown Hotel to get nearly 200 vulnerable people off the streets and into a safe space with soft beds and hot showers.
In the heartbreak and havoc of the past two weeks, the story of the Sanctuary Hotel was a bright spot; an uplifting story of a community taking care of its own.
And then it was gone.
Crowds milled outside the hotel Tuesday, after the safety and vandalism complaints, after the overdose, after the eviction order. Some people were moving on. Some stayed nearby, unsure where to go next. Many were elderly or visibly unwell. Some were children.
“We literally have nowhere else to go,” said Jamie, a small woman with graying hair and a bruised face.
Her voice was hoarse, she said, from sleeping on the streets and out in the elements. She said her bruises came from an assault while she was sleeping at a bus stop. Someone tried to rob her and when she didn’t have anything worth stealing, they hit her in the face with a gun.
“Just three days ago,” she added, “I was asleep in Peavey Park.”
Minneapolis police knelt on George Floyd’s neck until he died, crying out for his mother.
Police attacked unarmed protesters, slashed car tires, and denied any wrongdoing unless confronted with video evidence of what they’d done wrong.
If this is policing, people started to say, stop policing.
There must be a better way to protect and serve.
City officials are talking now about pulling apart the police department and reassembling it into a force that lives up to the motto painted on the squad car doors. While they talk, the scene outside the Sanctuary Hotel is a reminder of how far this city falls short of that promise every day.
“Don’t look at the people in the situation,” said Desmond Carthron. “Look at the situation the people is in.”
Police arrested him during the unrest, he said, released him at 1 in the morning, in the middle of curfew, with nowhere to go and no way to get there. In the middle of the night, in defiance of curfew, volunteers were waiting outside the police station with food, drinks and the offer of a ride back to the Sanctuary Hotel.
“It was supposed to be a sanctuary,” said Vaughn Yaints, who found three or four nights of rest there, reveling in a quiet room, a private bathroom, cable TV and air conditioning when the temperatures outside soared into the 90s. He repaid the kindness by volunteering and helping out around the hotel.
There should have been more security, he said, but the volunteers did their best. More than most of us do for the people sleeping in parks, on public transit and in tent encampments all over the metro area.
If Minneapolis is going to build a public safety system, it would be nice to start here, with people who need safety and security the most.
A handful of volunteers stood in a cloud of smoke and tear gas and figured out how to save 200 people for two weeks.
Minneapolis can figure out how to save Brooke Flying Hawk, who sat outside the Sanctuary Hotel in her mobility scooter, clutching the camping gear she’d just been given, fighting tears.
“I’ve been homeless for the last two years. Sleeping on the streets. Sleeping in bus stops,” she said. “I’m so grateful they gave us this place. A whole five-star hotel. ... I love you all. God bless Minneapolis.”