My daily commute in the summer includes biking Minneapolis’ Midtown Greenway. Seeing homeless individuals camped along its edges is not new to me. But traveling in Oslo, Norway, and in St. Petersburg and Moscow, Russia, for a month this summer gave me a new perspective on the situation. On my first commute to work after my trip, I encountered more homeless individuals in one day than I did in my entire month abroad.
Why? Had there been an unusual spike in the Minneapolis homeless population while I was away? Perhaps, but the numbers have always been high. Could I have simply managed to avoid the homeless sections of the cities I visited while abroad? Doubtful. My husband and I visited central and suburban areas via public transit, stayed in hostels, regularly interacted with locals and experienced the normal rhythms of urban neighborhood life. In short, we weren’t in a tourist bubble.
I suspect the real reason for the disparity in homeless numbers has to do with how U.S. cities manage individuals who are housing insecure. We apparently lack the political will, the resources, the imagination, or some combination thereof, to address the problem. I am not an expert on cities or homelessness, in the U.S. or abroad. But I know what I saw: virtually no homeless individuals in a month of travel.
We seem to have the political will, the resources and the imagination to do all sorts of things in Minneapolis (build major sports complexes, host events that draw thousands of visitors, sustain a vibrant arts community), but we don’t seem to be able to care for and adequately house vulnerable members of our community (the approach to the Native American encampment on Franklin Avenue/Hiawatha this past year seems a notable exception).
Former Mayor R.T. Rybak’s rallying cry was “make Minneapolis a world-class city.” I can’t imagine what world travelers who visit our city and bike down the Greenway, or along many other urban routes, would think when they see our homeless situation. I assume they would be as shocked and dismayed at what they find as I was awed and inspired by what I saw (or didn’t see) while abroad.
What impression do we want to make? What kind of a city do we want to be? I suggest we start paying more attention to the homeless in our community if we really want to be “world-class.”
Ann Minnick is a Minneapolis resident.
WANT TO ADD YOUR VOICE?
If you’re interested in joining the discussion, add your voice to the Comment section below — or consider writing a letter or a longer-form Community Voices commentary. (For more information about Community Voices, see our Submission Guidelines.)
Correction: A previous version of this commentary misspelled former Mayor R.T. Rybak’s name.