Concern over increased strain at Minneapolis homeless shelters

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, it's a challenging time for organizations dedicated to helping people experiencing homelessness.

Staff are already stretched thin and with thousands of people now out of work, they are worried the load could get heavier.

"I think our guests are pretty freaked out,” said Daniel Gumnit, the CEO of the nonprofit People Serving People. “I mean, it’s scary."

As the cases of COVID-19 grow, so do concerns at Minneapolis homeless shelters.

"I don’t think people have an idea of how bad it’s going to be," said Gumnit.

All shelters have moved to individually packaged meals as cafeteria dining is no longer safe. Duties once divided among an army of volunteers are the responsibility of staff alone.

"My biggest fear is that we’re all going to get burnt out and we as a staff can’t keep working day and night for months,” said Gumnit. “It’s just not going to work."

People Serving People houses and feeds hundreds of women and children every day. While their families have individual dorms, shelters like the Salvation Army Harbor Light Center sleep anywhere from 80 to 50 people in a room. They've started sleeping people head-to-toe in the bunks to try and socially distance.

While there is a moratorium on evictions in Minnesota now, shelters say, once that's lifted, they expect to be flooded with new clients. In Minneapolis, they are already short on beds.

"We are anticipating a flood—a deluge—of families experiencing homelessness once that is lifted,” said Gumnit. “It’s going to be a crisis for Minnesota.”

Shelter leaders also say the changes they've had to make for safety have sent costs skyrocketing.

"Our costs are astronomically higher than they’ve ever been before,” he said. “I mean, it’s tens and tens of thousands of dollars a week."