Minneapolis, MN - November 19, poor families and members of the Welfare Rights Committee flooded into the Hennepin County Government Center to confront the heads of welfare for the County.
The state welfare law says that people going through a personal crisis can be exempted from work requirements. The county had refused to acknowledge that homeless was a crisis.
"Since June, we have been coming to the heads of Hennepin County welfare with the terrible situation that homeless families are facing in Hennepin County, that families are being forced to do work requirements and are being sanctioned while homeless," stated Chili George who is a member of the Welfare Rights Committee and also a resident at one of the shelters.
"There is no greater personal or family crisis than homelessness," she added. "It is an outrage that we even have to fight so hard to get the administration of Hennepin County welfare to recognize that homelessness is a crisis."
The heads of Hennepin County welfare barely had room to stand during the meeting, as the room was packed with families who are currently homeless and living in the shelters. Angry parents cited one abuse after another being committed by the shelters and the welfare department.
Families spoke about disrespect, intimidation, and harassment by job counselors, welfare workers, and shelter staff. The shelters take every dime of a family's money, welfare grants, work checks and even SSI checks, leaving families with nothing for personal needs. Others spoke out about unhealthy conditions in the shelters, reporting filthy carpets, unsanitary food, mice, cockroaches, and massive overcrowding with eight to ten people in one room.
"We continue to demand that homelessness be considered a crisis in all cases. To leave the decision of whether or not we are in a crisis in the hands of workers and job counselors does not make sense and is just further abuse," stated organizers. "These administrators need to put themselves in our shoes. If they and their families were on the streets without housing, we're sure they would make it county policy immediately that homelessness is a crisis. We demand that poor families get equal treatment."
In the end, the administrators agreed to hold meetings with shelter heads regarding the complaints. They further agreed to hold trainings to let all workers and job counselors know that homelessness can be considered a crisis, thus exempting families from work requirements and that families can choose to do housing search in place of job search.