Mayoral candidates share ideas on fighting homelessness

(Far left) The forum's moderator Mark Stenglein (seated from left) Mark Andrew, Jackie Cherryhomes, Dan Cohen, Betsy Hodges, Don Samuels, Cam Winton and Stephanie Woodruff. Credit: Photo by Sarah McKenzie

Seven Minneapolis mayoral candidates discussed their ideas for finding solutions to the city’s homelessness problem today at a candidate forum at the downtown Salvation Army Harbor Light Center moderated by former Downtown Council CEO Mark Stenglein.

In opening remarks, the Salvation Army’s Envoy William Miller said the people staying at the Salvation Army shelter — the state’s oldest and largest shelter — are “no different than you and I.”

“We are just as important as the rich guys Uptown,” he told the candidates. “You have a lot of votes on this block.” 

Among other topics, candidates were asked about their support for the Downtown Council’s Downtown 2025 plan, which includes a vision for ending street homelessness. The proposal has been in limbo as the Downtown Council awaits the hiring of a new leader.

Cathy ten Broeke, who leads the state’s efforts to end homelessness, is the chair of the Downtown Council’s committee on ending street homelessness. Earlier this year she presented a request calling for $3.2 million for outreach, housing assistance and community education, among other things, to help get people off the streets and into stable housing.

Throughout the course of a year, there are an estimated 500 to 800 people living and sleeping on the streets in the city, according to ten Broeke’s presentation to the Council. While overall, homelessness among families has increased and shelters are at capacity, the Heading Home Hennepin plan has made inroads in reducing street homelessness and homelessness among veterans in Minneapolis.

When asked about support for the Downtown 2025 plan, mayoral candidate Betsy Hodges, a DFLer who represents the city’s 13th Ward, said she’s supportive of the initiative and would work with the Downtown Council and other partners if elected to make the initiative a reality. In her opening remarks, she said the goal of ending homelessness is doable. “It’s not a question if we can do it,” she said. “It’s a question of will we do it.”

Dan Cohen, an independent candidate who serves on the Planning Commission, spoke favorably about programs at the Downtown YMCA when it was his turn to respond to the question. At another point in the debate he advocated for a downtown casino, the centerpiece of his mayoral campaign. He said it would be a major job creator and boost downtown’s vitality.

DFL candidate Jackie Cherryhomes, former City Council president, said she would work to find $4 million to fund the ending street homelessness plan. She said she would leverage her business relationships to make it happen. She said she’s taken great pride in her work developing affordable housing on the North Side, but said more needs to be done to increase affordable housing throughout the city. “Too many people are living in the margins in our city,” she said. 

Mark Andrew, a DFL candidate and former Hennepin County commissioner, said he was part of the first city/county collaborative efforts to address homelessness. He said he would continue that collaborative work and accelerate funding for shelters and focus on job training programs. Earlier in the forum he noted the first job he applied to after college was at the Salvation Army on Lake Street. He also said he did “pioneering” work on the County Board to establish 24-hour shelters for the homeless. When he started as a commissioner, he said shelters were confined to church basements with limited resources. 

DFL candidate Don Samuels, who represents North Minneapolis neighborhoods on the Council, said he’s in the best position to lead on the issue because he has more personal contact with people in poverty than any other of the candidates. He said he carries a tri-fold business card listing organizations that can help people looking for work and shelter. He said he often hands them out to people. He added that downtown needs more outreach workers and said more information should be available about support services at the Central Library and other places homeless people gather.

Cam Winton, an independent candidate, said he would work to streamline the city’s regulatory process to make it easier for people to create jobs and housing in the city, which he said would go a long way toward putting a dent in homelessness. He added he’s against “punitive” measures against the homeless like anti-loitering statutes. He also said he recognizes that he has been blessed with many opportunities in life, but has worked hard to “pay it forward” through service work, such as helping street children in Africa and people here in Minneapolis.

Stephanie Woodruff, a DFL candidate who was recently endorsed by the Independence Party, said throughout the debate that she would put “people before politics” and “people before projects.” She added she knows what it’s like to go through hard financial times as she went through a foreclosure on a home near Lake Harriet, sold everything to keep her business going and now lives with a friend in a loft near Nicollet & Franklin. As mayor, she said she would invest in educational opportunities for the city’s youth to break the cycle of poverty. “My platform is to make Minneapolis the smartest city in America,” she said.