Lax supervision a magnet for drug sales at Mary’s Place

On February 21, seventeen crack and/or pot dealers were arrested in a sting and drug raid at Mary Jo Copeland’s Sharing & Caring Hands, the famous soup kitchen and food/clothing shelf, where, by the way, one can also go for help getting a state identification card and, if you’re female, a bunch of other stuff, including help with the rent. (Sorry fellas, dads with custody have been turned down flat – though St. Mary’ll probably be glad to put the kids in her orphanage.) It’s not hard to imagine the heads of Copeland’s booster still sadly shaking, their tongues wagging about how such a selfless martyr has been wrongfully repaid by the very homeless element she has sought to help subsist, blah, blah, blah.

Well, the fact of the matter is that Copeland is hardly the sainted figure she puts herself up to be, and that she significantly contributed to the need for Minneapolis Police Department and Hennepin County Sheriff’s officers to be at her establishment, handcuffing folk and carting them off to jail, in the first place. With the system she uses for access to the meals, dry goods and clothing – and you have to use the term “system” very loosely – Mary Copeland may as well be calling hogs to slop. There is absolutely no screening of who gets access. You show up and, at the appointed time, either get on the chow line or join the shoving match to crowd downstairs and try to beat everyone else to what’s available on the shelves and in the bins. Sometimes, by sheer the luck of the draw, a needy family or individual actually manages to get there early enough and get some things. Generally speaking, it’s just catch as catch can. And there’s no telling who gets what, whether they actually need it or whether, as routinely takes place, someone is simply there to go in and pick up boxes of Campbell’s Chunky Soup, load them into the trunk of a car and go sell them to some store owner looking to shave off a little overhead.

Okay, so what has this to do with the drug bust? The same lackadaisical “supervision” applies. If you’re serious about not having your establishment be a magnet for drug sales – and that’s what any place serving the down-and-out runs the risk of being – you don’t just open the doors and figuratively yell “Sooey!” ‘Cause the biggest problem you’re going to have is drug traffic. Nobody deals drugs, for instance, at the Community Emergency Service food shelf and women’s shelter in South Minneapolis – and didn’t even do it a few years ago, before cops cleaned up the neighborhood for commercial gentrification. One reason is because you even can’t get in CES without two forms of identification. At Catholic Charities’ homeless shelter, the Dorothy Day Center in St. Paul, they started a computerized program in 2002 that necessitates no I.D., no service.

Immediately, there was a drop in dealers trying to get in and set up shop – like they used to back when Minneapolis-based People Serving People (PSP) had an infamous shelter at the Drake Hotel (the Drake’s still there, PSP has moved and, at the new location, keeps the entrance locked up tight with a sign-in area). Dealers do not like to be identifiable by officials or authorities.

Here’s the point. Were Mary Jo Copeland as concerned about serving the down-and-out as she is with getting praised for it, she wouldn’t be running the place like a hog farm. Can’t you see that as soon as she adopts a no I.D., no entrance policy, drug deals in that long front corridor at the place would cease? Take it a step further and place security guards (armed if necessary) right outside the building – instead of staff members who have no chance of safely confronting belligerent dealers – and as soon as these guards start making sure no one without a Mary Jo’s I.D. card can even loiter out there, said loiterers will find someplace else to go, with the proverbial quickness. So, for that matter, will their customers – cutting down on the foul-mouthed, quick-to-start-a-fight-if-you-look-at-‘em-wrong deadbeats who decent people have to wade through in order to just get inside.

First, though, for this to happen, Mary Jo Copeland would have to stop fronting and actually give a damn about the droves of destitute folk who show up at her door. Don’t hold your breath waiting for that to happen – it’s just a gig to her. And, as soon as shockwaves from the Feb. 21 bust sufficiently subside, drug activity on Sharing and Caring Hands’ premises will be business as usual.

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    Dwight Hobbes's picture
    Dwight Hobbes

    Dwight Hobbes (dwight [at] tcdailyplanet [dot] net) is a writer based in the Twin Cities. He contributes regularly to the TC Daily Planet.