While crowds of football fans, Super Bowl volunteers and a bolstered police force are packing Minneapolis streets this week, one group has seemingly disappeared: the homeless.
And that’s no accident.
With Sunday’s kickoff fast approaching, more outreach workers are walking Nicollet Mall, where hundreds of visitors are checking out Super Bowl Live activities and free concerts.
Westminster Presbyterian Church in downtown Minneapolis has opened up space to give the homeless a place to escape the crowds and bitter temperatures during the day. And Saturday and Sunday, single adult homeless shelters will extend opening times to include daylight hours, instead of just at night.
Two years ago, before the 2016 Super Bowl in San Francisco, extra street teams were sent to help the homeless find shelter away from a free fan village that was set up. At the time, one homeless advocate said the city wanted to create an “illusion” that there was no poverty amid the global spotlight.
But that’s not the case in Minneapolis, said Gail Dorfman, adding that boosting efforts to help the homeless isn’t meant to disguise an issue but rather help vulnerable people escape the crowds and heavy law enforcement presence, which can sometimes be traumatizing.
“We’re not hiding our homeless population,” said Dorfman, executive director of St. Stephen’s Human Services. “Our motivation was just to make sure they have access to resources and a place to go.”
St. Stephen’s has added more outreach workers and extended its hours this week, concentrating efforts downtown, especially at Super Bowl Live on Nicollet Mall.
At the same time, law enforcement and the Super Bowl’s 10,000 volunteers have been trained on how to steer panhandlers and the homeless to resources that can be of help to them, Dorfman said.
Dorfman added, however, that outreach workers are being careful not to target homeless people.
“Nobody is there to arrest anyone who’s homeless,” she said.
During the Major League Baseball All-Star Game at Target Field in 2014 and the Republican National Convention in St. Paul in 2008, police removed homeless encampments, Dorfman said. But the Super Bowl Host Committee said that wouldn’t happen this year.
“It has been noticeably different this time around,” she added, saying that Metro Transit police also aren’t taking any extra measures to deal with the homeless riding light rail trains.
Besides extra St. Stephen’s outreach workers, the Minneapolis Downtown Improvement District ambassadors also have a seven-member team working extra hours during the 10-day Super Bowl Live events on Nicollet Mall to connect the homeless to resources, CEO Steve Cramer said.
“We want downtown to be safe and hospitable for everyone,” he added.
At Westminster Presbyterian Church this week, volunteers welcomed homeless people with bag lunches, coffee and a place to sit. The church, wedged between Super Bowl Live and the Super Bowl Experience, stepped up efforts to open a newly renovated space in time for the big game, staffing it with volunteers from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily through Sunday.
“We not only do football well, but we do hospitality and taking care of our neighbors well,” said the Rev. Tim Hart-Andersen, the senior pastor. “We’re just doing what people of faith have always done.”
On Thursday, a shelter at First Covenant Church, located inside a secure perimeter surrounding U.S. Bank Stadium, relocated to a makeshift shelter at St. Olaf Catholic Church. Dorfman said the move would have happened regardless due to the presence of heavier crowds and police.
As it does every year, Hennepin County has added 100 extra beds for single adults during the winter. This week, Minneapolis and west metro shelters were again at capacity, serving 923 single adults in total. The shelters have been at full capacity since summer.
“The homeless response system will do exactly what it does all year round ... try to connect people to housing,” added David Hewitt, director of the county’s Office to End Homelessness. “We’ve received assurances there would be no displacing or targeting of people.”