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Minneapolis mayoral candidates weigh in on affordable housing, homelessness

Seven of the 35 mayoral candidates participated in a forum sponsored by the Salvation Army.

The Salvation Army Harbor Light Center is Minnesota’s oldest and largest homeless shelter serving 550 to 1,000 meals a day.
Courtesy of Salvation Army Northern Division

The candidates for Minneapolis mayor weren’t the only ones with a message at Thursday’s forum sponsored by the Salvation Army.

“We are just as important as the rich guys uptown,” said the Salvation Army’s Envoy William Miller, explaining that every Election Day vanloads of voters are driven to the polls by his agency. “We have a lot of votes.”

The Salvation Army Harbor Light Center is Minnesota’s oldest and largest homeless shelter serving 550 to 1,000 meals a day and providing short-term shelter and transitional housing.

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It was not the usual political crowd that turned out for lunch and the forum, but onlookers interested in what the candidates had to say.

“I’m telling you right now, you can look around this room, you can look at the people we hire,” said Miller after the first round of candidate comments. “We do not discriminate in who we serve or who we hire. I want you to get that clear in your heads, or I’m going to run for mayor and you’re all going to be in trouble.”

Those lines were delivered with the zeal associated with members of the clergy and received nods of approval from those in the crowd who knew Miller.

The format was simple, with seven of the 35 mayoral candidates taking part. There were two questions and a wrap-up opportunity following opening remarks by the candidates who spoke in alphabetical order. The following are excerpts from the candidates’ remarks.

Opening remarks

Mark Andrew
“I got elected to the County Board when the entire homeless shelter policy of Hennepin County was 15 church basement shelters that were open for 12 hours, from 7 p.m. until 7 a.m., and that was it. No sanitary facilities. No food.

 “I was very proud to have that transformed that program into 24-hour shelters with lots of programs, distributed throughout the county, and lots of other programs that made it possible for people to transition into self-sufficiency.”

Jackie Cherryhomes
“I was in this chapel the day we dedicated it. I remember the testimony that people gave in this chapel about how the Salvation Army changed their life. I helped build Harbor Lights. I helped build Hope Harbor. It was part of a commitment to this city to assure there is a place for everyone. I want to be mayor because I want to do that again.

“There are too many people in our city living on the margins, too many who aren’t included. I want to be mayor, and I will be a mayor who includes everyone and builds a city where everybody is part of our city.”

Dan Cohen
“My best credential is standing there taking pictures — he’s my campaign manager. His name is Troy Wilson. He’s a manager of the YMCA, he’s a minister [and] does a Bible study for the homeless on Tuesday night. He’s the minister at the Hennepin County Workhouse.

“I’m as fully committed to his program as he is to mine. I believe in what he is doing for the homeless, and he believes in what I am doing here trying to help everyone who needs help.”

Betsy Hodges
“I have been sober for 24 years. So I know what it is like to be in a room with people who, on the face of it, seem so different [and] then find out, in actuality, we are all the same.

“When I’m mayor, I will look, as I do now, at the world through the prism of the haves and the have-nots, knowing that the City of Minneapolis has some of the biggest gaps between white people and people of color in the country. We are not doing right by everybody in Minneapolis and we need to.”

Don Samuels
“I believe that God blesses you for a purpose, makes you strong so you can lift heavy things. He makes you rich so you can help the poor. We have to walk into the need.

“As mayor of Minneapolis, I’m going to walk into the most neediest of places. As I told the folks in the shelter on the North Side, I’m going to be sleeping in the shelter this summer or winter one night, because the mayor needs to experience everything so the mayor can have a balance because we’re talking to rich people all of the time.

“I need to feel the pulse of the poor so we can make the right decisions in balance.”

Cam Winton
(Winton told about an experience he had in Zimbabwe when four young boys sitting in a tree asked him to take them to dinner. At the dinner, the waitress told him the boys were abandoned, lived in a cave outside of the town and foraged for food in garbage bins.)

“I felt as if I had been struck by lightning because I had the power at that moment to catalyze change. So working with a variety of partners, a Rotary Club and a church in Zimbabwe and a Rotary Club and a church in my hometown outside of Philadelphia, I got people together to put those four boys, and two others, into stable housing, stable schooling with three full-blown meals a day.

“It didn’t work out in the end. Things in Zimbabwe deteriorated and we had to shut the program down, but I hope that demonstrates my commitment to the principle that we are all God’s children.”

Stephanie Woodruff
“I used to be a homeowner, just a few blocks off Lake Harriet, and I experienced a very painful foreclosure a few years ago when the market crashed in 2008. I sold everything I owned to keep my company going and currently, everything I own still resides in a 20-foot container in storage and I hang out in my friend’s loft.

“When that happened to me, I was 50 years old and I had this amazing successful career. When that happened, it rocked my world. It truly woke me up as to what’s been happening. I jumped into the race because I felt the people of Minneapolis, the hard-working people of Minneapolis, deserved more. I’m here to keep it real. I’m here to cut through the rhetoric.”

Affordable housing

Question:  The lack of affordable housing in Minneapolis keeps people in shelters. What would you do as mayor to change that?

Andrew: “The development of affordable housing is critical to the future of our community, but there are many other issues we need to be looking at. Intake at the shelters, getting people off the streets, into the shelters, into supportive living and ultimately into self-sufficiency requires many tools and affordable housing is one of those.

Cherryhomes: “I worked on the North Side for about 10 years creating affordable house for folks. I built it. I managed it. I took care of it, and today that housing is still standing and still providing great opportunities for people. But it’s not enough.”

Cohen: “I’m on the Planning Commission. One of the things we finally decided to do was have the market drive the zoning, instead of the zoning drive the market. We now have reduced the size of dwelling places that are acceptable. That means housing is going to be more affordable.”

Hodges: “Stable housing is pretty much one of the key things we need to do to meet pretty much any goal we have in the city when it comes to serving people well. It comes down to this:  It comes down to the money, and it comes down to working with every partner we have to leverage that money.”

Samuels: “We need to make sure men coming out of prison have the opportunity for jobs and housing. We need to make sure the obstacles are removed to housing.”

Winton: “If we keep relying on unstable government funding sources to meet our affordable housing needs, we’ll be back here having the same conversation eight years from now, and that’s unacceptable to me. When I’m mayor, I will simplify the process for people to come here with private dollars and build housing at all price points.

Woodruff: “Do you know what sucks most in foreclosure? Trying to find a place to live. I couldn’t believe how expensive it was to find a place to rent. I was shocked.”

Downtown safety

Question:  What can we do to make downtown Minneapolis safer for the people who are homeless and for those who live and work there?

Andrew: “The city part is bricks and mortar, but the county part is programs. That’s the kind of collaboration I will accelerate to make the downtown environment more happy, healthy and wholesome for all of our citizens.”

Cohen: “Many people are using the daytime facilities at the YMCA as a place to go during the day. It’s full of great programs for people.”

Cherryhomes: “I have the relationships with the nonprofit sector, with the chemical dependency agencies, with the youth-serving agencies that are necessary. I have all of the relationships necessary that can come together to deal with some of the issues that are going on downtown. I’m committed to that.”

Hodges: “It’s a systems issue. Are we matching housing to the people who need housing? The answer right now is no and we need to make that answer a yes. And it’s going to take everybody at the table to do it.”

Samuels: “When you see young people, or any people gravitating to an area and they have a problem, it is almost a call to us to use that venue to interact and solve those problems.”

Winton: “When people have housing, because there’s more affordable housing, when people have jobs because it’s easier to start and build a business here, people won’t need to spend time acting out on Nicollet Mall.”

Woodruff: “Downtown is a nucleus. It’s so key to future investment, not only for the perception that it’s safe but that it actually is safe.”

Candidate wrap-up

 (Topic of their own choosing)
“People have a right to housing. I’ll stand up and say that proudly and I’ll say it loudly and I’ll say it clearly. People have a right to housing.”

Cherryhomes: “I’m going to be mayor for everyone. Poverty isn’t something I just hear about or visit once in a while. It’s in my family. Joblessness isn’t something that is theoretical for me. I’ve got people in my family who aren’t working. This is my life. And I want to give my life to this city so we are a city that includes everyone.”

Cohen: “The long-term solution to homelessness is a job. A job. A job. A job.”

Hodges: “I am asking for your support for mayor and I think you should vote for me because I know this isn’t about me. This is about you. This is about our future and this is about our values.”

Samuels: “I’m the one who is here to make change, not just to get a few people more homes, but to transform the culture and economy of our city where black and brown children can succeed and do well and graduate equal to the white children. Where the homeless are not disproportionately people of color, where we are equal and building the city together and where the rising tide lifts all boats.”

Winton: “I respect my opponents. I’ve said that before and I’ll say that again because I truly do. But with great respect, I note that behind me is an array of 60 years in public service. And while they have achievements to point to, when I hear these grand plans for thing we’re going to do, frankly, I ask, ‘Why haven’t we done those things in the 60 years my opponents have been on the City Council, the Hennepin County Board, on the Planning Commission or the Audit Committee?’ ”

Woodruff: “I know I’m the underdog. I jumped in late. I know that. But my entire life I’ve been the underdog, so I’m up for the challenge. My great focus is to put people before politics.”