Homelessness revisited in Oak Grove

Homelessness Awareness Month has begun in Anoka County, recognized officially by cities throughout the county, except for Oak Grove, where a motion drew split reactions from voting councilmembers at a meeting Oct. 8 and thus failed 2-2.

Mayor Mark Korin and Councilmember Kevin Robinson voted to approve a proclamation, and were opposed by Councilmembers Dan Denno and Scott Lawrence.

Councilmember Mike Wylie was absent from that meeting and vote, due to a family emergency, as he explained at the council’s next meeting Oct. 29 where the full council was addressed by a community resident and local church volunteer who expressed disappointment with the Oct. 8 vote.

Bob Rooney said homelessness exists outside of Minneapolis and other big cities, particularly for teens and other young people. Often, they have chosen to leave or been forced out of a home after arguments with parents, he said.

“It’s because of what has happened on the home front,” Rooney said.

The following night, on Oct. 30, he was coordinating a repeat project at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church (located across Nightingale Street N.W. from the city hall) where the parish K-12 youth ended up filling 80 duffel bags with sleeping bags, bath towels and other items for Anoka County youth living without permanent homes.

“(Our youth) are bringing them a little bit of help, the best that they can,” Rooney said.

He later told the Anoka County Union that 10 of those packages went to St. Francis High School, as administrators requested them, and the others were going to the Pathways Center on Crooked Lake Boulevard in Coon Rapids, where Anoka-Hennepin School District 11 operates a food and clothing shelf for students and their families in need.

Rooney shared from a District 11 contact that Anoka-Hennepin teachers and counselors have reported knowledge of 269 homeless youth in 2012, up from 248 in 2011. Some may be relatively fortunate to be “couch-hopping” among homes of their friends, while others are making their way to school after sleeping in cars, sheds or sometimes in tents within wooded areas, he said.

The Oak Grove council could revisit its vote.

“It has to be the consensus of the council to bring an action back,” Korin said.

Each of them said they would be open to hearing the item again, although Denno and Lawrence suggested their votes may not change.

“Everyone knows there’s homelessness,” said Denno at the Oct. 29 meeting, but it’s not “the purview of our government or federal government. What this government has to be here for, is what we’re doing.”

Lawrence said a signed document would be meaningless for helping homelessness.

“Without a call to action, it seems trivial to sit up here and sign a paper and act like we did something great,” he said.

The council’s split vote Oct. 8 also drew attention from other media based in the state’s largest city.

“We’re the only ones who ended up in the paper for it (these votes),” said Lawrence. “There’s more awareness now.”