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Minneapolis Sanctuary Emergency Response: September 29 Update

On June 9, 2020, when hundreds of unsheltered people seeking refuge at the former Sheraton Minneapolis Midtown Hotel were effectively evicted from the premises, ZACAH was contacted by volunteers with the Minneapolis Sanctuary Movement. Two days later, ZACAH booked a hotel room for a young woman at Powderhorn West who was experiencing severe post-traumatic stress disorder at the park.


Since then, community members have coordinated a rapid emergency response, arranging for food, water, sanitation, community safety and medical support across park land in Minneapolis. Over the course of two months, ZACAH has received $100,000 in donations from all over the country to assist in temporarily relocating residents — particularly women, children, the elderly, people with complex medical needs and those fleeing domestic violence — to hotels, where they have safety, privacy and stability that encampments cannot guarantee. 


To date, ZACAH has spent over $75,000 paying for rooms for over 150 of our unsheltered neighbors. The $25,000 remaining will sustain this level of support for another couple months, at best. If and when donations run out, those in hotels will have no place to go — right as the city is conducting violent evictions at parks, removing even park land as an option for displaced families, and right as the temperature begins to drop.


ZACAH provides emergency financial assistance to people on the verge of experiencing homelessness. Since 2013, we have worked with hundreds of applicants who are under the constant threat of eviction and need help paying ever-increasing rent. We have witnessed the consequences of a broken housing market; landlord protections that enable harm inflicted on tenants; the failure of the state to make sufficient improvements in affordable housing; years-long waitlists for Section 8 Housing; and the continued privatization of public housing. The marked rise in ZACAH applicants during the COVID-19 pandemic is glaring evidence of an escalating housing crisis, and without rent control and an extended moratorium on evictions, historically marginalized communities will be subject to irreparable damage.


Hennepin County has set up hotel-based programs as part of a COVID-related evacuation of congregate spaces, but those programs are scaling back right as the temperature is dropping and the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board plans to evict all residents of encampments during the month of October.


We are a Muslim-run, community-oriented organization staffed only by unpaid volunteers. We will continue doing everything within our power by any means necessary. But only the state has the capacity and resources to continue doing this work throughout the winter. ZACAH is honored to have the trust of the community, and while it is our name on the invoice, it is our donors in Minnesota and across the country who are housing our unsheltered community with their own dollars. 


Many of the people and families ZACAH has placed in hotels are using this time to search for jobs, for housing, for treatment, and whatever else they need. Volunteers have worked tirelessly to connect them with case workers and county services. We plan to use remaining funding to ensure stays of 2-weeks to one month for as many residents as possible, especially women, children and those with serious medical conditions.


The state has CARES Act funding for this explicit purpose. Pick up the bill and, using emergency powers, lease hotel rooms — commandeering when necessary — and assure residents safe, dignified housing for the winter. This is certainly COVID prevention but, frankly, it is also a moral imperative. Minnesota has neglected its homelessness crisis for decades, and leaving our unsheltered community outside in the winter, during a pandemic, is a death sentence. 


To our donors: Thank you. Please continue donating what you can, and amplify our calls to the State of Minnesota to show some leadership and execute a plan to ensure dignified housing for all. 


As in all things we do as Muslims, we ask God for guidance in everything that we do, and for justice for every person facing oppression in the city of Minneapolis, state of Minnesota, and around the world.

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