One man’s path out of homelessness

With county help, he moved from his car to a hotel and then his own apartment.

By: - January 4, 2022 6:00 am

Hennepin County has spent more than $3 million, mostly through the American Rescue Plan, to move more than 400 people from shelters into permanent housing since 2020. The emergency response plan moved more than 2,000 elderly and medically at-risk people from shelters into hotels.

James Myers first became homeless in Minneapolis in March, 2019, not long after serving time at Moose Lake correctional facility.

He had been staying with his dad and stepmom after his release.  When his stepmom contracted COVID-19, Myers moved into his car off Olson Memorial Highway to isolate from them.

He began staying at the nearby Catholic Charities shelter after some women who brought him food and water recommended it.

When his car broke down, he walked the 45 minutes to an hour to his job as a machine operator at MICO products. 

He eventually saved enough money for his own apartment, but struggled to find a place that would rent to an ex-felon. 

Then Hennepin County stepped in with its efforts to move people from shelters to hotels as response to the pandemic, and Myers got on the list to move into the Millennium Hotel. 

Today he lives in his own apartment in Minneapolis’ Uptown neighborhood.

The county has spent more than $3 million, mostly through the American Rescue Plan, to move more than 400 people from shelters into permanent housing since 2020. 

The transition to permanent housing stemmed from an emergency response plan that moved more than 2,000 elderly and medically at-risk people from shelters into hotels. 

The county also used federal aid to buy three hotels with the intent to convert them into permanent housing, upgrade shelters and keep them open throughout the day and hire a team of navigators to help people apply for public benefits. 

Moving people from hotels into permanent housing was always the goal of the pandemic response, according to Hennepin County Director of Housing Stability David Hewitt.

“Shelters don’t end homelessness,” Hewitt said. “They might enable us to help people stay safe and connect them to other sources, but to truly end people’s homelessness, housing is the answer.”

Myers’ case was passed around by three different case managers while he awaited permanent housing.

“I assumed that just because of my past, they were getting rid of me,” he said. “But they gave me to the right person.” 

The right person for Myers’ was case manager Addie Hammond, or Miss Addie as he calls her. He said that she worked overtime to find him a decent place to stay.

“You know when you’re going through a tough situation, you kinda lose trust in people,” he said. “The ladies that I met through this program have really restored my faith in humanity.”

Hammond helped Myers apply for general assistance, which helps him survive since he lost his job in January, 2021. With public benefits, he pays $75 monthly towards rent.

Hewitt said that the county upgraded the online application for public benefits during the beginning of the pandemic. Online applications became critical with a higher need for assistance and limited in-person contact.

Myers, who had never before applied for public benefits himself, said he found  the process user-friendly, with his navigator’s help. 

Of the people who made the transition, 96% have so far stayed in their permanent housing.

Myers said that he’s seen chronically homeless people “mess up” their permanent housing, but that his situation is different because he’d never been homeless.

“I don’t think somebody who actually appreciates the help that the program did would lose this place or lose this opportunity,” he said. “Now I can start rebuilding my life all over again.”

At the Metro Hotel, one of the hotels that Hennepin County purchased for shelter and eventually permanent housing, there’s a mural with a flower added for each person who has transitioned from shelter to permanent housing.

There are just 34 flowers left to paint on the mural.

Despite the dwindling number at the Metro Hotel, seven to eight people become homeless every day in Hennepin County.

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Anna Koenning
Anna Koenning

Anna Koenning is a reporting intern for the Reformer. She covered international news for Madrid-based El Independiente and works as a barista when she isn't at the Reformer or in class at the University of Minnesota, where she studies journalism, Spanish and political science.