Families who lived at Minneapolis’ Francis Drake Hotel, destroyed in a Christmas Day blaze, began packing up their few remaining belongings Friday to move to new shelters.
For many, it will be their second or third one.
“We have to find permanent housing for these individuals, which has been a challenge,” said Jo-Anne Stately, impact strategy director for the Minneapolis Foundation, which has been holding a fundraiser for the residents. “That’s the long-term fight that we really hope we can address.”
The 93-year-old former hotel served as Hennepin County’s only overflow shelter for families with children experiencing homelessness, but it was also home to people who rented their rooms privately and to the employees who maintained the building.
In the days since the fire gutted much of the building, many have been staying in a temporary shelter at Bethlehem Baptist Church in downtown Minneapolis. The number staying there rose to 127 Thursday night, up from 111 the night before.
“We see this after a disaster, where … people may go and be with friends or family and not be aware of the resources that are available to them,” said Carrie Carlson-Guest, a Red Cross spokeswoman.
On Friday night, the county began moving about 30 families who stayed at the Drake through the county’s homelessness services program to a hotel in Bloomington. Jodi Wentland, assistant Hennepin County administrator for human services, declined to name the hotel.
On Saturday, the remaining Drake residents will be moved to First Covenant Church in Minneapolis.
“I’m just pleased to say that we are ready for this,” said the Rev. Dan Collison, senior pastor at First Covenant.
He added later: “At least for the next couple weeks, we will be a shelter in a place of refuge where we hope to provide meaningful hospitality, support, care, meals, showers, laundry. All of the things that you need for 24/7 life, we will do.”
It’s unclear how long the families will stay in the new locations. Wentland said that could vary. “Each individual has different needs or resources,” she said.
For now, the county is footing the hotel bill, but it expects to have conversations with its partner organizations in the future about the financial arrangements, Wentland said.
In the longer term, the loss of the Drake will exacerbate the rising problem of unsheltered homeless people in the metro area, said County Commissioner Angela Conley.
“We are in the midst of a housing crisis, and we just lost over 100 units of supportive housing and overflow housing of families waiting for shelter,” Conley said.
She said she’s been heartened by the immediate and overwhelming show of support from the community, but added that truly addressing Minnesota’s crisis will require a sustained push.
“Not only do we need donations when there’s a tragedy or in the coldest months of the year … we need donations in July,” she said.
Conley said she’s talked to people displaced from the fire who spent 13 hours riding a bus on Christmas Day just to stay warm. Many haven’t showered. One man asked to use a phone to call his sister and tell her he was still alive.
The Drake “really was not only our family overflow shelter, but it was one of the few places where people with felony backgrounds, people with disabilities could live on their own and have permanent housing,” Conley said. “So it’s a tremendous loss to our communities, especially to Minneapolis when we’re right in the middle of a housing crisis.”
Among the people now looking for more permanent housing is David Gray, 27, who moved into the Drake in April and rented his room privately. He wasn’t home when the fire broke out and found out about it when a friend called to ask if he was safe.
“I looked at the news on my phone, and it was everywhere,” he said. “To be honest, it still doesn’t feel real. It feels like a TV show or something.”
Gray has been staying with a friend since the fire.
He works at a sushi restaurant in Minneapolis and has had shifts every day since the fire, so he hasn’t had time to think about what he’s going to do next, he said.
He said he has not heard from anyone at the county about future housing.
County officials on Friday encouraged residents who need help to call the American Red Cross at 612-871-7676.