Thirteen days. That’s how long dozens of people who lived at the Francis Drake Hotel in Minneapolis have to find their next home.
While the exact number fluctuates from day to day, roughly 60 people have been staying at the First Covenant Church downtown in the weeks since the Christmas Day fire destroyed their rooms and nearly all of their belongings. On Thursday, officials announced they will shut down the church shelter after lunch on Jan. 22.
“I don’t think that’s enough time for anybody to find a place,” said Carlos Wright, 31, who rented a room at the hotel and has been staying in the shelter. He’s one of several residents who have complained that they’re not getting the kinds of assistance they need most, nor are they getting it quickly enough. Some residents say they’ve been having trouble finding vacant apartments, or ones they can afford.
But Jodi Wentland, an administrator for Hennepin County human services, said, “The current temporary arrangements are not sustainable.”
The temporary shelter will operate for just shy of a month before it closes. The last time the Red Cross ran a temporary shelter for that long was in 2011, when a tornado devastated north Minneapolis.
For many, the temporary shelter’s closure means they must move on to their second or third shelter in roughly a month.
The Francis Drake Hotel served as the county’s only overflow shelter for families with children experiencing homelessness. Others who lived there rented their rooms directly. It was also home to employees who worked to maintain the building.
In total, roughly 200 people lost their homes when a fire broke out about 3 a.m. Christmas Day. Investigators have not been able to pinpoint a cause.
In the days immediately after the fire, many people stayed at the Bethlehem Baptist Church and then moved to the First Covenant Church. Others were transported to an undisclosed hotel in Bloomington. Wentland said the county is working to help families at the hotel quickly find long-term housing and has not set a deadline for them to leave the hotel.
Returning to the Drake is not an option. Except for a small portion being used to contain the rubble, the entire building was demolished after the city declared it a public safety hazard.
Dan Collison, senior pastor at First Covenant Church, choked up as he thought of the residents leaving.
“I have seen shock, loss and tears on their faces,” he said. “It’s been a very emotional time.”
He urged people who are following the recovery efforts to “stay engaged in both the Drake residents’ lives ... and the larger systemic priorities.”
Some people have already moved to long-term housing, but many have not.
City and county officials and local nonprofits say they are working to help residents find housing. Earlier this week, the Minneapolis Foundation, which has been raising money to help the victims, announced it was giving nonprofit Pillsbury United Communities $250,000 to provide help with rent and other services.
But some residents fear that’s not what they need. They would like quicker, direct access to the money that has been raised, rather than having to work through organizations that receive grants from the Minneapolis Foundation.
Navigating through those organizations can be difficult, some residents say. Officials have noted that they attempted to assign each person a caseworker to help them do just that.
But Wright thinks the residents should have greater flexibility and should receive the money directly.
“We don’t need to be babysitted,” he said.
He and his girlfriend have been staying in the church shelter. He said she’s miscarried since the fire.
“We just want to feel like we are human,” he said.