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For some, homelessness is sometimes just an illness away

Posted on 18 December 2017 by calvin

By JAN WILLMS
You have no privacy.
You have no place to rest.
If you are sick, you have no place to lie down.

These are some of the most significant challenges of being homeless, according to Fernando Anderson (photo right by Jan Willms).

Anderson is a young man who grew up in St. Paul’s Rondo area. “My dad was active in the community,” he said. “He was an election judge and a delegate for the DFL.”

But medical issues and unpaid student loans set Anderson on the road to homelessness.

“I was going out to college in Mesa, AZ, but I kept getting sick,” Anderson recalled. He was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, an auto-immune disease that attacked his stomach. “I was hospitalized two to three times, and I am supposed to have a couple of surgeries,” he noted. “I was bleeding inside.”

Anderson decided to return to Minnesota. He fell behind on school loans. He hoped to get enough money from a tax refund to get back on his feet, but the government took the refund.

Anderson now resides in a homeless shelter at Nicolett and 28th, sponsored by the Simpson Methodist Church. “It’s one of the better shelters,” Anderson said. “They offer free clothes, and people from restaurants donate and cook food.”

He said the shelter resembles a dorm, with a men’s section and women’s section. People sleep in bunk beds.

“Altogether there are about 70 people in that shelter,” Anderson said. “But because it is cold out, the shelter has been full. There are couches and a dining room, and they have been letting people sleep on the couches. They have reached a maximum of 73 people.” The shelter lets people stay from 5pm until 9am, and then everyone has to leave for the day.

“I am in a situation where I am supposed to be resting,” Anderson continued, “but I have to leave. And sometimes I have nowhere to go. I was frozen out of my car the day before yesterday, and it was really cold. I was stuck outside at the shelter for an hour and a half because they don’t let you come back in.”

Anderson said people who are sick are not separated from those who are not, and the situation can be difficult.

“The other day a person with Stage 4 throat cancer passed out. She has been working, but she doesn’t get a chance to rest. I think the person was just exhausted,” he said.

Anderson said he thinks what would help most in reducing homelessness is a change in laws so that credit checks and bankruptcy checks could not prevent people from getting housing.

“The fellow who bunks above me has been working at Valvoline for ten years, but he can’t get into a place because of his background and credit. He has a son, who stays with his cousin, because he can’t get housing, even though he has been saving up.”

Anderson said some people who are in the shelter are working, trying to save up enough to find a place to live. “They pay application fees, but are then denied for poor credit or a checkered past,” he said.

There is definitely a stigma to being homeless, according to Anderson. “Society thinks a lot of homeless people are on drugs or alcohol. I am not, and I have a clean rental history, but my credit is bad. And so that has prevented me from getting housing.”

“A lot of people see people like us, and they think we don’t have skills or don’t want to do anything. I have had my own business since 2009. It’s a small business; I do a little bit of landscaping.”

He said that in his situation, he was working but not earning enough to prove he could pay rent.

Bernadette, who did not want to give her last name, said that she is concerned about women in general who are forced to live in a shelter.

“We like to have our dignity,” she said. “Some women do not know how to take care of themselves, and others do, but we are all lumped together. Some of us are older, and we have raised our children, and we are used to doing for ourselves. Some thought they would be able to stabilize themselves, but things got worse, and they have fallen through the cracks.”

Bernadette stressed the importance of hygiene in a shelter, as she commented that some think because you are homeless you are not clean.

“Some of the women in shelters need to be in recovery; others are ill and having a hard time. They should separate us into categories, rather than all in the same place. I do think those who are ill should have a priority in getting housing,” she said. ‘”What is needed most is for women to get themselves back on their feet, and get help with the steps needed to get housing.”

Anderson said he understands how people’s spirits can go down. “I know that discouragement everyone is feeling. I have felt it myself.” Anderson recalled the work he has done from volunteering in the block club with his father to working with Save Our City Kids, Step Up, the U of M. “I have delivered papers, cut grass, raked leaves, helped seniors and been involved in community engagement work,” he said. But he is concerned about his need for two more surgeries and his credit difficulties getting in the way of moving forward. “I see people much sicker than I am who are not getting affordable housing. So I am not optimistic about any person in my situation who is going to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.”

And yet, Anderson does look toward a brighter future. He said he is passionate about teaching people about sustainable living, agriculture and ending hunger. “I want to empower people to take care of themselves,” he said. In that vein, he has started a website at www.youcaring.com/fernando-1039216. He is hoping that by raising himself out of homelessness, he can help others to do the same.

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