Minneapolis shelter takes message to the streetsby Brandt Williams, Minnesota Public Radio
Supporters and clients of a downtown Minneapolis shelter marched through the streets of downtown protesting threats made by the city to take away the shelter's license to provide food. City officials are concerned about illegal activity in and around the shelter.
Minneapolis, Minn. — Protesters gathered at the shelter and marched across downtown to city hall. Most carried brightly-colored handmade signs with slogans and sentiments about the charismatic Catholic founder of the Sharing and Caring Hands shelter, Mary Jo Copeland.
Ivan Jones carries a sign that says Mary Jo is all I have.
"That's the only Christian lady I know," he says. "She does everything to help people and stuff. Now they're trying to close her down, trying to take her food license. That's not right."
58-year-old Jones says he's been in Minnesota for three years. Jones confesses he used to be part of the problem the city has with the shelter.
He used to go there to get drugs and get high. Now he says Copeland has cleaned the place up.
Jones and the marchers pass by the construction site of the new Twins ballpark just a few blocks from the shelter.
"The only thing, the reason I believe, the only reason it is, is the stadium. They don't want no homeless people down there," Jones explains.
City officials say that is not the case and say they have no desire to shut the shelter down.
But over the last three years, the shelter has generated more than 400 police calls for service. They say that's a lot of calls, and city licensing staff say Copeland has not done enough to crack down on illegal activity going on in and around the shelter.
Earlier this month the city's licensing department sent Copeland a letter requesting her presence at a license settlement conference.
The letter contains examples of drug activity including reports that on several occasions undercover officers have bought crack in the shelter.
City officials say a homeless shelter, just like a neighborhood corner store, can have its license removed if it doesn't take reasonable steps to cut back on crime in or near the building.
Copeland was not present at the march or rally. She has said in the past that the shelter has adequate security.
When the marchers arrive across the street from city hall, they called on Mayor R.T. Rybak to come down to speak with them.
Instead, Erica Prosser, a member of the mayor's staff reluctantly spoke up. She told the crowd she'd just met with Mary Jo Copeland and took a tour of the shelter.
"We really all have the same goal in mind as keeping Mary Jo's Place serving the neediest in our community," Prosser said. "So we're really looking forward to sitting down with Mary and having a dialogue and keeping her open and helping the people we need in this community."
The license settlement conference is scheduled for next week.
- All Things Considered, 04/17/2008, 5:50 p.m.