Why are people calling 911 about this statue in Minneapolis?

It’s a piece of art that looks so real, people are calling 911 to report it.

In front of the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis lies a sculpture of a homeless Jesus. Visible right along Hennepin Avenue, the statue looks so real that people are calling 911 concerned for someone overexposed to this brutal cold.

“I have witnessed an ambulance pull up and people coming out and realizing it is a sculpture. Sometimes people call 911 when they drive by and see,” said Johan Van Parys, Director of Liturgy and Sacred Arts at the Basilica.

The sculpture is meant to get people talking, and it’s safe to say it’s done just that.

“It is, indeed, very lifelike and intentionally so – the artist wanted people to, from a distance, to have the notion this is a real person,” Parys said. “Someone had come and put a blanket over the sculpture. It was a red blanket, very visible, and I thought, ‘here, the sculpture is working.’” 

But others don’t see the value in it.

“The kind of money you spend on this could go to something the homeless people could use,” said Michael Wilhelm.

The sculpture was installed a little over a year ago with money raised by anonymous supporters of the Basilica. It’s one of many other “homeless Jesus” pieces in cities around the world. The Canadian artist Timothy Schmalz said he was inspired after seeing a homeless person on a bench in Toronto. 

“It was just a haunting experience. So when I came back to the studio, I wanted to sculpt that feeling I had into a piece,” he said.

Schmalz hopes it continues to touch those who experience it.

“We all need a reminder that human life is sacred,” Schmalz said. 

“That’s really our hope, that it moves people to do something,” Parys said.

Basilica officials said they also worked closely with the homeless population they serve, to get their opinions on whether this sculpture would be appropriate. Parys said that overall, they were very supportive and had positive feedback.