For people with homes, plastic storage containers are a way to store old toys, holiday ornaments, winter clothing and computer cables.
For homeless people in downtown Minneapolis, they can hold someone’s livelihood.
At the beginning of this year, the city in partnership with the Minneapolis Downtown Improvement District opened a kiosk with 50 such containers underneath a parking ramp east of the Hilton hotel downtown. Open during regular business hours, the containers — black with yellow lids — can be checked out for free by homeless individuals to hold personal belongings.
City and business leaders said on Thursday that they hoped the location, which is closing at the end of April, could free homeless residents to apply for jobs, improve their health and clean up the image of downtown Minneapolis.
“Imagine having to cart your things around all day. Now imagine having to cart your things around all week,” Mayor Jacob Frey said. “To have to bring a stroller to your job, your bedding to your place of work. Imagine having to bring everything you own to a job interview.
“I’m proud to say that we’re doing something about it,” he said.
The $25,000 program, funded by the city, has shown success. All 50 containers were full over the last two weeks, and the Downtown Improvement District is hoping to open another location in the future.
The state’s homeless population had reached record numbers in the last few years, according to a recent report. Downtown’s population grew last year after a fire destroyed the Francis Drake Hotel, leaving many without a place to live.
A survey conducted by the Downtown Improvement District in 2016 found that not having places to store belongings was the top concern of 75% of homeless people, Frey said. Those same people suffered from neck, back and shoulder pain, as well as respiratory issues.
Carlton Harris, a volunteer for Street Voices of Change, a homeless advocacy organization, agreed.
Living on the street, he would carry as many bags as he could with him throughout the day, holding such things as a change of clothes and shower shoes, he said. He missed out on job interviews because of the heavy load, and he was anxious his things would be stolen when sleeping on the light-rail train. Sometimes he had to make the difficult decision of letting things go.
He now works as a dishwasher, and he has a locker at a shelter run by St. Stephen’s Human Services. He said he saw the new storage location as a “victory.”
“Words can’t say enough about how much I appreciate the storage program,” he said. “Carrying around my baggage or my personal belongings, it wore out every part of my well-being: my mental, my physical and my spiritual, not to mention my emotional.”
Steve Cramer, president and CEO of the Downtown Improvement District and its sister organization, the Minneapolis Downtown Council, said that storage could also help with the “climate in downtown” for workers and visitors. He brought up an instance when groups of homeless adults gathered by a sculpture outside the Minneapolis Central Library last summer, which led to a decision to barricade the area.
“Part of what happened there is that people had their possessions, everything they owned in life in the world, with them, and became understandably quite territorial,” he said. “That in turn created almost a mini-encampment situation, which is difficult for other aspects of downtown working effectively.”
Having storage “just avoids situations like that one example that we saw last year,” he continued.
“This is both a head and heart issue for our organization,” Cramer said. “The heart part is that this is good for people who need a hand up in our community. The head part is that it also makes downtown, as a place of commerce, a little better.”
Miguel Otárola • 612-673-4753