Minneapolis barricaded a statue and fenced off seating outside the library — so the homeless wouldn’t get too comfortable downtown.
But a few steps away, at Minneapolis Central Library, there will be fresh coffee and board games in the atrium Sunday morning and a free movie in the theater upstairs. Every Sunday, Hennepin County staff unlock the doors early and invite hundreds of patrons to make themselves comfortable inside.
Every morning, as the shelters close for the day, David Jones heads to the library.
Sundays at the library are a chance to “meet, mingle, relax, have coffee,” he said, “and kind of get away from all the headaches outside.”
Without the library, “Sunday would be off to a really rough start,” he said.
Sundays used to be rough. Most shelters close by 7 a.m. and most libraries don’t open until noon.
The alternative was the streets, and the people and old habits Jones was trying to avoid.
Minneapolis Central’s Advisory Board on Homelessness — made up of patrons who have experienced homelessness firsthand — hit on the idea of opening the library atrium, with its benches and restrooms and shelter from the elements.
“The goal is to make sure that every person who walks into the building has a positive experience, regardless of housing status,” said Kate Coleman, the library’s outreach coordinator.
Coleman helps as many as 150 patrons a month connect with public assistance, find shelter, get treatment and search for a home of their own in the Twin Cities’ overheated housing market.
“We want to make sure all our patrons feel like, ‘You are welcome here. You belong here,’ ” Coleman said.
The library is where Kim Nguyen learned to knit.
Reaching into her bag, she pulled out a hat-in-progress, a cozy, nubby creation in soft brown wool.
The Craft Club meets Monday mornings, and grants from the nonprofit Friends of the Library make sure that everyone who comes — and everyone is welcome to come — gets the materials and training they need to crochet a scarf or bead a necklace.
Libraries have always been more than just buildings full of books. When you come to the library, you can watch a movie or take a class or charge your phone or change your life.
Nguyen and Coleman have been working together, filling out applications, getting closer and closer to finding a place Kim and her cats can call home.
“If I didn’t have this place, I think I would be doing stuff I shouldn’t be doing,” Nguyen said. Instead, she serves on the library advisory board and spends the days meeting with her case worker, reading stacks of library books and planning which scary Halloween movies the library should screen on Sundays in October.
Sundays at the library can draw more than 200 people. The more people get to know each other, Jones said, the better they seem to treat each other and this book-filled home away from home.
“People really respect that room,” he said of the common room where people gather on Sundays. “They know what it’s worth. ... I’ve seen knuckleheads go in there and act like a grandpa. They go in very quietly and get coffee.”
Being homeless can mean either being invisible or being too visible. A space where you feel seen and accepted is precious.
There were 830 single adults, 150 families, 320 children and 62 youths sleeping in Hennepin County shelters at the end of August.
Hundreds more — 603 people, during the last count in January — are unsheltered, sleeping in parks, on sidewalks, on public transit or in cars.
Some slept beneath the new sculpture the city erected outside the Minneapolis Central.
Unhappy with the litter, the graffiti and the sight of the public camping on the public art, officials at the Minneapolis Downtown Improvement District barricaded the whole installation this summer.
Fences and “CLOSED” signs keep everyone away from the 10-ton Nimbus sculpture as it loops before the library. Barricades block access to the new shade trees and the grassy medium.
Nimbus was a piece of art designed to welcome the public in and liven up the charmless concretion this side of Nicollet Mall. They built it with seats so people could come and curl up with a library book, or take in a performance.
It’s been a month since anyone was allowed to sit, so people walk by, barely glancing at the ugly wall or the artwork behind it.
Kim Nguyen knows how it feels to be bypassed without a glance.
“Everybody ignored us and just walked right by us like we weren’t even there,” she said. “They don’t even care.”
If some did stop to talk, she said, maybe “they’d hear our story and feel sympathy. But they don’t.
“You can’t just ignore homelessness,” she added. “We’re here.”
Minneapolis Central sits at 300 Nicollet Mall. You can’t miss it. It’s right next to the fenced-off art.
Craft Club starts at 10:30 a.m. Monday.