Chaez Harper knew he had a job to go to Wednesday night. He didn’t know where he would sleep when his shift ended.
He can’t go back to First Covenant Church, site of the temporary Red Cross shelter in Minneapolis for former residents of the Francis Drake Hotel. A Christmas Day fire at the Drake left Harper homeless, and now the temporary shelter was closing. Twenty-two people slept there on its final night.
With the last meal served, their belongings packed in plastic bins and many of the cots folded, some people were still waiting Wednesday afternoon to learn where they would rest their heads.
Harper, 29, was doing his best to take it in stride. He planned to work his overnight shift in private security and plans to spend the coming days “just trying to keep afloat.”
“I don’t think anybody here wants to stay,” he said.
They want a home.
He was paying about $900 per month to stay at the Drake and has been inquiring about a new place, which he hopes to share with his girlfriend. He hopes they hear back soon. He hopes others do, too.
“Everybody here are good people,” he said. “They deserve a fair shot.”
Meanwhile, Gerald Moutry, 62, was starting to panic. The weeks since the fire have been especially tumultuous, and he said his criminal record, which includes an assault conviction, has made it especially hard for him to find new housing.
For several days after the fire, he stayed on friends’ couches, but that “wore out pretty quick.”
In early January, he ended up in the hospital.
“I had a nervous breakdown,” he said. “It was related to the fire.”
When he was released last week, he said he received gift cards from aid organizations and used the money to get a hotel room through Wednesday.
Despite several efforts in the interim and lots of meetings with various aid workers, he still didn’t have housing as of Wednesday evening. He had one more meeting scheduled and hoped that he would leave with a home. He didn’t. So, he planned to make some calls.
“It’s scary,” he said. “It’s been scary, and it’s still scary.”
It’s difficult to tell exactly how many people are in similar situations.
More than 200 people lost their homes when the Drake Hotel caught fire. Of them, 120 were single adults who would have been eligible to stay at the church shelter run by the American Red Cross.
Of them, 90 had secured “stable housing,” and 30 had some sort of housing plan in the works, according to Jodi Wentland, assistant Hennepin County administrator for human services.
Local officials have said it wasn’t feasible to keep the church shelter running. It was one of the longest-running disaster shelters that the Red Cross has operated in years.
“No one left the shelter today without a plan for immediate housing needs and connections to resources,” said Phil Hansen, who heads the Minnesota region of the American Red Cross.
But for some, the plan didn’t mean they could move into their homes Wednesday night. Some people have found housing but their leases haven’t started yet. Aid workers were encouraging anyone still looking for shelter to contact their caseworkers.
For others, the housing search is finally coming to an end. Each time someone at the church got a home, workers rang a bell. Then the room erupted in cheers.
Alliyah Ross and Jamal Jones, both 20, stayed in a hotel with their infant daughter, Chanel, while they looked for housing for close to a month. They had been meeting with aid organizations at the church for help with the search. On Tuesday, they got good news.
There’s a home for them in St. Paul, one that seems “way better” than what they had at the Drake. Ross called it “a miracle.”
Their lease begins Feb. 15, but Ross said they’ve been told that they can stay at the People Serving People shelter until then.
Liz Navratil • 612-673-4994